In recent years, since the Supreme Court in 2012 granted them the right to employment, to hold CNICs and to vote, a series of laws has gone into place to protect transgender persons across Pakistan. On Tuesday, the National Assembly passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018, seeking to end discrimination against transgender persons by allowing them to determine their own identity, change it on the Nadra database, have the right to inherit property and be protected against harassment in educational institutions, places of work, hospitals or other places. The bill adds to others like the law in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa passed in March which permits transgender persons to own driving licences and offers them other rights as equal citizens. The problem, however, is that despite plethora of laws that now exist on paper discrimination against the community remains widespread. So does inhumanity. A week ago a transgender person, who identified as female was shot dead in a marriage ceremony in Mansehra on a trivial matter.
This incident adds to the continuing anxiety of over 10,000 transgender persons who live in Pakistan according to the 2017 census. The community itself says numbers are far larger. It continues to face periodic violence. In KP since 2015 as many as 57 transgender people have been killed while four have been murdered this year alone. The situation then is not improving. While under the new law greater emphasis has been placed on ending discrimination against those identify as transgender and we already have a transgender anchorperson and a model, most in the community continue to face extreme difficulty in finding reasonable employment or being treated with respect. Many are still forced to assume their traditional role as sex workers or entertainers at gatherings. While we hope the latest law will help resolve the problems of transgender persons, activists emphasise it will take more than laws or court verdicts to change reality. Those committing crimes against transgender persons need to be penalised under the law and efforts made to change attitudes. Only when we can create greater social consciousness and sensitivity towards transgender rights will the realities that they live with change.