Transgender activists in Pakistan say they plan to appeal to the country’s highest court against an Islamic court ruling that bolds a law aimed at protecting their rights.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed by Parliament in 2018 to protect the fundamental rights of transgender Pakistanis. It ensures their access to legal gender recognition among other rights.
Many Pakistanis hold beliefs about gender and sexuality, and transgender people are often considered outcasts. Some are forced into begging, dancing and even prostitution to earn money. They are also living in fear of attack.
The Federal Shariat Court on Friday termed several provisions of the landmark law as “un-Islamic”.
It ruled that a person cannot change their gender based on “gut feelings” or “self-perceived identity” and must conform to the biological sex they were assigned at birth.
Sharia courts have the constitutional mandate to examine and determine whether laws passed by Pakistan’s parliament are in accordance with Islamic doctrine.
“We want to appeal the court’s verdict in the Supreme Court and we will win,” Naib Ali, executive director of Transgender Rights Consultants Pakistan, told a press conference on Friday.
Ali said the transgender community was “mourning the killing” of Pakistan’s first transgender rights protection law in response to the Islamic court’s findings.
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But clerics and representatives of religious groups say the law has the potential to promote homosexuality in the conservative Muslim-majority country. They want Islamic Courts to annul the law.
The Sharia Court ruled that the term “transgender” as used in the law created confusion. It covers various biological variations, including intersex, transgender men, transgender women, and Khaja Sira, a Pakistani term for people who are usually born male but identify as female.
It also rejected a section of the law that allows the country’s national database and registration authority to change a person’s biological sex assigned at birth on identification documents including driver’s licenses and passports.
It said allowing a person to change their gender according to their inner feelings or self-perceived identity would create “serious religious, legal and social problems”.
For example it would allow a transgender woman – a person who is biologically male – to enter women’s social and religious gatherings or women-only public spaces, and vice versa.
“This law will pave the way for criminals in the society to easily commit crimes like sexual harassment, sexual harassment and even rape against women by masquerading as a transgender woman,” the court ruled.
However, the court said that Islamic law recognizes the existence of intersex people and eunuchs and said that they should be entitled to all the fundamental rights accorded to Pakistanis in the constitution.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed dismay at the “regressive verdict” and said denying transgender people their right to a self-perceived gender identity seeks to “erase an entire population and its fundamental rights”. It said that rolling back the transgender bill would lead to further marginalization and abuse of an already vulnerable community in Pakistan.
Amnesty International is calling on the government to end any attempt to prevent transgender people from obtaining official documents that reflect their gender identity without complying with abusive and invasive requirements.
“This ruling is a blow to the rights of the already embattled group of transgender and gender-diverse people in Pakistan,” Amnesty International research assistant Rehab Mahamur said in a statement.
He said any move to deny transgender and gender-variant people the right to determine their own gender identity would violate international human rights law.
Sana, 40, a eunuch from Rawalpindi, who asked to be identified by one name, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he supported the court’s ruling because his “root and born” eunuch community includes a large number of gay men. .
He alleged that those who became surgically transgender men were “denying rights” to his community by affecting their access to employment opportunities under government job quotas reserved for their community.