Transgender Rights In Pakistan

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People who identify as transgender often have been, and still are mistreated and discriminated against throughout the world. Discrimination against any group of people usually stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding when it comes to who that person, or people, on a fundamental level. Identifying as transgender is described as a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.

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This can be a hard and difficult truth to come to terms with for many young men and women who deny that they are born to be and lead normal lives in an attempt to suppress who they truly are. (?) Those in the community who have accepted and recognized themselves completely, often go through painful surgeries to be closer to the gender they identify as. For example, this is the case for young transgender women in Pakistan, who complete transitional surgeries without anesthesia. It takes an immense amount of courage and bravery to stand up in front of the people they love and share their innermost thoughts. With the social stigma surrounding transgenders in Pakistan many young people are shunned from their families and denied basic rights due to gender that they have chosen.

Recently, Transgender rights in Pakistan were essentially nonexistent. Not only were transgender rights not established, but also no lesbian, gay, or bisexual rights implemented at all. In Pakistan, which is deeply set in religious and conservative values, many LGBT rights were and still are widely considered taboo. This belief is unfortunately nothing new, the Pakistan Penal Code of 1860, developed under colonialism, punishes sodomy with a possible prison sentence under the guise of protecting public morality and order. Although this act is not uniformly prosecuted in the country the LGBT community must go about their normal lives in secret. People identifying as someone of the LGBT community are still able to organize, date, and live together as couples but must do so in secret due to the discrimination, disapproval, and social stigma stemming from oppressive religious beliefs. These beliefs are widely held in leadership roles throughout the country with no civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is, of course, also held in laws permitting same sex marriage or civil unions.

The thought of transgender rights were considered laughable by the majority of people in Pakistan. Transgenders were nothing but a bad omen that could curse a business or a person, people who were nothing more than freaks of nature whose place was to dance for the entertainment of others. People identifying with a third gender are often denied jobs, places to live, and sometimes even simple services. A transgender activist, by the name of Alisha, was shot six times and when brought to a hospital by her friend Farzana Jan. Died as the doctors debated for hours over which ward to treat her in, male or female. Ms. Jan, who identifies as intersex, received her fair share of mistreatment by her peers and even teachers, who would make her dance in the middle of the classroom while her peers laughed and watched.

Transgender women are subject to such discrimination that in most cases, the only form of compensation they can receive is through prostitution and begging. Media organizations that have been focused on this issue have brought this knowledge to the general public. As a matter of fact, The New York Times spoke of the lives transgender men and women lead and how people perceive those who fall under the term khawaja siras. This is an umbrella term dating back centuries denoting a third sex that includes eunuchs, cross-dressers, and intersex people, as well as transgender men and women.

Young people shunned by their families and subjected to systematic discrimination usually leave everything and everyone they know to live under the protecting the khwaja siras communities provide. Although these communities give persecuted individuals the gift of protection and community, the different laws they govern themselves under are often oppressive and exploitive. The khawaja siras follow a mother figure, called a guru, who offers said protection and shelter at a price. A guru gains followers, or chehlas, by buying them from other gurus or contracting them as novices. To become a novice a young woman must go through a right of passage to be an official member of the community. Novices are fined by their guru if they are rude or misbehave and they are also bought between guru’s for a price more than what the original guru bought them for, ensuring there are no losses. It’s also common practice for a guru to demand a percentage of the income their novices receive through sex work, dancing, or begging.

This, of course, can be dangerous for those involved. One professional call girl, Maggie, who has been in the business for four years says I never know what might happen, I could be shot, hit by a car, or kidnapped. She also speaks of people forcing her to do unspeakable things and recalls a story of a group of four men that broke her back so badly she couldn’t walk. Unfortunately, Maggie couldn’t go to the police because they would just make the claim that it’s the nature of her job. Despite the obvious dangers, she was still forced to return to sex work because potential employers have denied her work and stated, You’re a transgender, go dance and sing. In a futile effort to improve the lives of people identifying as someone of a third sex, a transgender woman, by the name of Mehlab Jameel, helped draft the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill. This bill will give people whose gender identity or expression differs from social norms and cultural expectations based on the sex they are assigned at the time of their birth the right to identify as a transgender person and have the same rights as other men and women in Pakistan.

The Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill, passed in 2017, was so incredibly progressive for the country of Pakistan. What made the bill’s passage so revolutionary was the fact that even though a large portion of the country had possessed a mindset deeply rooted in conservative and religious beliefs, the bill was still surprisingly easy to pass through Parliament. Mehlab Jameel, a transgender person of feminine expression who helped draft the bill stated, We are overwhelmed by how supportive the state has been to this law- we have so much hope. She spoke to The New York Times in a piece titled Transgender Pakistanis Win Legal Victories, but Violence Goes On, and it’s true violence and discrimination still continue despite the passing of the bill. The Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill gives equal rights to intersex people, eunuchs, transgender men, and women as-well-as anyone whose gender identity is out of the social and cultural norms. This is not the first time that the Pakistani Government has recognised transgenders though. As a matter of fact, in 2009, the supreme court legally recognized transgenders as a third gender and promised the mass circulation and utilization of National identity cards.

Furthermore, the most recent bill took the supreme court ruling several steps further. It allowed people to choose their gender and have their chosen identity recognised on official documents including the National Identification Cards, passports, and driver’s licenses. The bill also prohibited discrimination in public places and while receiving medical care. Mehlab Jameel told the National Public Radio …I was in a state of shock because I never thought something like this could happen within my own life in Pakistan. This kind of development is not only unprecedented in Pakistani history, but it’s one of the most progressive laws in the world. She’s referring to the the bill stating transgender people cannot be deprived the right to vote or run for office. It lays out their inheritance rights in accordance to their chosen gender, and obligates the government to establish protection Centers and Safe houses, along with seperate prisons for those of a third sex. With officials being so progressive the general consensus is that people who are different in regards to their sexual orientation and gender identity are being well represented and treated equally in Pakistani culture
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However, this is contrary to what is actually occuring in Pakistan. Something as sensitive and personal as the issue of gender identity has to be approached with the care and compassion that a good leader would possess. The many different positions, and the people that occupy these positions, of the Pakistani Government and leadership brings to question of how people felt with such a progressive bill being passed.

As with many governments, it is a painstakingly slow and laborious process to bring about truly revolutionary and inclusive change in an entire country. People who believe in what they are petitioning for will fight for their cause to extreme ends. Oppressed people will never stop fighting for what they deserve, what they believe, or their community because this is what defines them as a people. With the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill being passed in Pakistan, people identifying as transgender have encountered an incredible triumph in their fight for equality that many never believed would happen in their lifetimes. This has, of course, been met with joy and happiness throughout the LGBT community and the Khawaja Siras especially. With positive outcomes for one party another must also see a negative. Some people in Pakistan just see the bill being passed as encouragement for gay men, who have no rights due to old laws, to try to reap benefits of being a transgender person. A majority of the population see transgender people and their sexual ambiguities as God-given, act as intermediaries with the divine and have the ability to give blessings or curses. This makes transgender women a common source of entertainment at weddings as dancers to bless the ceremony. Despite all of this, transgender people are still shunned by their parents, discriminated against, and denied their newfound rights.

Although the Supreme Court of Pakistan gave transgender peoples the right to a national identification card in 2009. However, a majority of men and women can sadly say they have never received their card from the appropriate offices. The Protection of Rights Bill has the opportunity to change almost nothing at the ground level due to such a high level of corruption and discrimination. This is due to change with the emergence of thirteen transgender candidates who are running for Parliament. With the acceptance transgender people by the Council of Islamic ideology, that pushed Parliament to pass the Transgender Persons protection of Rights Bill, leaders are bound begin to adapt to the slowly changing views of their superiors and their peers around them. Leaders in the Pakistan community can see a slow rise in the respect for transgender peoples stemming from the beliefs of the Council of Islamic Ideologies. This government body was the first to validate the rights that transgenders deserve in Pakistan.

Surprisingly enough the same council has controversial beliefs that often subject them to scrutiny from the general population. Some of these beliefs include but are not limited to, nine year-old girls being old enough to marry, prohibiting female nurses from treating male patients, and the most radical of them all, men reserving the right to lightly beat their wives. Thankfully this twenty member council only advises the government on religious aspects of law and society; with its recommendations being nonbinding. With a government body such crafted like this, being able to guide and recommend the passage of laws, other government officials must truly understand the significance of what they are suggesting and adapt their own way of thinking to achieve such a goal. As with any country that permits the oppression of any minority group, it could be said that many of their leaders lack an understanding of Ethical Leadership. Instead of looking at the question of ethics in leadership as the kinds of values or morals a society has, look instead at any leader as an individual and see what he or she deems ethically moral and acceptable in their specific situation.

Most leaders would do what is best for all of their peoples regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, color, or sex, but with the continuation of discrimination of individuals who identify as a gender out of social norms or cultural expectations leaders are only following with what a specific portion of their followers want. That leaders morals are often-times misguided and coerced by the social norms to believe in something that the leader themselves don’t truly believe in. This type of conventional morality is what oppressive societies rule under, without a leader that will step out and demand change for the good of everyone how can any change truly come about? The discourses of identity are deeply set in religious beliefs and superstition in Pakistani culture. As a young man you are brought up to learning about the social hierarchy that still places men at the head of a household and places women as little more than an obedient servant. Young women are taught to cook and clean to provide for their husbands in anyway that they can. Everyone is taught that homosexuality is taboo, and is still punishable by law. Ingrained in their personalities from such a young age people go on to lead many different lives. The leaders and governments that support oppressive laws are made up of men who fully believe in what they were taught as children and that can make it hard for some of them to see a situation from a totally different perspective. People see from the perspective of their fathers, and their fathers before them, instead of learning and growing as an individual they are stuck in a repeating cycle of outdated ideologies.

Social stigma, religious beliefs, superstition, and family. As a transgender person in Pakistan there are several factors that aim to oppress and degrade. Even their own established communities resemble little more than slave traders and their property. People in power have kept those who are different from speaking up and being heard. Being outside of the social norm is seen as taboo instead of being embraced for individuality and courage. The courage to be who you were born to be no matter the odds stacked against you, the courage to step up when no one wants to listen and demand to be heard, and the persistence to fight for what is right no matter what the cost. Being a part of a community that is seen as unnatural, and cast aside as nothing more than street beggars and sex workers creates an environment of adversity that only the strongest can overcome. With the help of a surprisingly supportive government and outspoken members of their society, Khawaja siras have encountered the first step in the right direction of change.

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