The Parliament of Pakistan passed The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act on May 8th 2018 marking a historic victory for the trans community in Pakistan. The Act, which protects the rights of gender non-conforming persons and outlaws discrimination both by the State as well as private entities and persons, grants an individual the right to self identity their gender. Further, under the Act, gender identity has been defined to mean“a person’s innermost and individual sense of self as male, female or a blend of both or neither; that can correspond or not to the sex assigned at birth.”
The Transgender Persons Act as passed by the Pakistani Parliament can be contradistinguished from the Indian Bill on the Rights of Transgender Persons currently pending before the Parliament on one significant aspect, i.e. the definition given to the term “transgender”. The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2016 has come under attack by members of the trans community in India for several reasons, one among these being the regressive and exclusionary definition of transgender under the same. Under the Bill, a transgender person is one who is “partly female or male; or a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male.” In contrast, Section 2(n) of the Pakistan legislation gives a more comprehensive and inclusive definition to the term transgender. Under the same, a Transgender Person includes an Intersex (Khunsa) person born with mixture of male and female genital features or congenital ambiguities; or a Eunuch i.e. someone who is assigned male at birth, but undergoes genital excision or castration; or a Transgender Man, Transgender Woman, KhawajaSira or any person whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the social norms and cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at the time of their birth.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act passed by the Parliament of Pakistan marks a watershed moment in the LGBT movement in the country and paves way for the inclusion of transgender citizens who have often been shunned by society and denied opportunities to live a life of dignity. In securing for them the right to inheritance, health, education, employment, vote, property, as well as the right to hold public office, in addition to the guarantee of basic fundamental rights for transgender citizens, Pakistan’s legislative measure is a revolutionary one. It provides for a protective legal framework, rooted in a rights based approach, which ensures that the quest for transgender equality does not remain a hollow ideal, a criticism that its Indian counterpart has repeatedly faced for its failure to satisfactorily address the concerns of the trans community in India.