On May 9th, Pakistan passed a law to guarantee the basic rights of transgender people in the country. According to the bill, the purpose of the law is “to provide for protection, relief and rehabilitation of rights of the transgender persons and their welfare and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.”
While no reliable official figures exist for the number of transgender citizens in Pakistan, advocacy group Trans Action has estimated that at least 500,000 of the country’s 207 million population identifies as transgender.
Pakistan is one of the most socially conservative nations in the world which is often criticised by rights groups for its poor record on free speech, press freedom, gender rights, and religious freedom.
The new law explicitly bans any discrimination against transgender citizens by employers, educational institutions, healthcare providers, transportation service providers and any private business or service provider. It also guarantees transgender citizens their right to inheritance, something often disputed under some interpretations of Islamic law. It also gives them the right to run for public office, to assembly, to have access to public places and several other specific Rights.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, on May 4, assailants fatally shot a transgender woman, after she could not provide smaller currency for a 1000 rupee note (US$9) that could be “showered” upon transgender women invited to dance at a wedding.
This was the latest of several recent attacks on transgender women in the province, the fourth killing in 2018 and the 57th since 2015, according to local Activists.
In 2009, Pakistan’s Supreme Court, called on all provincial governments to recognize the rights of transgender people. The judgment specifically called for improved police responses to cases involving transgender people, and to ensure the rights of transgender people.
When asked about the law by Al Jazeera, Mehlab Jameel, one of several rights activists and lawyers involved in drafting the legislation said: “I believe that it will make a positive impact on the ground,” but also added that, “Laws can only go so far with a community that is so marginalised, especially economically, that they often don’t know what their own rights are.”
Social media reactions were very mixed with some praising the new law, while others condemned it as disgusting.