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Community activists hail passage of landmark transgender rights bill by NA

By Zoya Anwer
May 09, 2018

The transgender community has hailed the passing of the landmark Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017 which sailed through the National Assembly on Tuesday with a majority vote.

The bill was presented in the House by MNA Naveed Qamar. It had already been passed by the Senate two months ago and now awaits the President’s signature to be signed into law.

Rights guaranteed

Mehlab Jameel, a Lahore-based transgender activist who worked closely on the bill with other activists, including Neeli Rana, Jannat Ali, Aashi Jaan, Babli Malik, Aisha Mughal, Maani and Sara Sohail, told The News that the passage of the bill holds immense significance for the country’s transgender population.

Speaking about the hard work that went into the process, Mehlab said that Babar Awan had presented the bill in the Senate back in January 2017, but it was copy of the transgender persons rights bill in India and did not have any feedback from the local community.

She added that it had some controversial aspects due to which the functional committee of the Senate had requested the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) to draft it again. She said grassroots transgender rights activists then worked on the draft incorporating the community’s input and then submitted it to Senate.

According to Mehlab, the bill was then divided into two parts – fundamental human rights and criminal law amendment, respectively. The latter is needed to make it more translucent, especially with reference to the definition of rape in the Pakistan Penal Code, and is still in process, while the former has been passed.

She further said that the definition of transgender in this bill is inclusive and welcomes all. Moreover, the bill also allows transgender persons to choose the gender they identify with when applying for an NIC, and also gives the option to get the gender changed on the NIC if it has already been issued. It also gives them the right to apply for important legal documents such as driving licenses and passports.

The bill also guarantees other fundamental rights to transgender persons such as the right to health, education, public space, assembly among many others. It also entitles transgender persons to property inheritance and prohibits their harassment in public and inside their homes. The government will also build safe houses for transgenders and provide them with medical and psychological help as well as separate cells in jails.

Mehlad said the bill had been pushed forward in accordance with Shariah and has the nod of the Council of Islamic Ideology.

Community rejoices

Bindiya Rana, a transgender activist who runs the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), said that she was immensely pleased that the bill had finally been passed by the assembly.

“I can’t describe my happiness,” she said. “I feel as if an orphan has finally found shelter. Now, we can also take pride in our identity because this bill further cements it. Earlier, there were employment quotas for women as well as people with physical disabilities, but now we would have a similar quota as well.”

She added that the law will also eradicate the sense of inferiority in the community. Speaking about implementation of the bill, she was confident that the transgender community will ensure that it is done.

“Even before the law, we were rallying for our rights, so, now that we have a law in our hands, we would make sure that the law is implemented. This may not be possible in the upcoming elections, but we will definitely demand reserved seats in the parliament,” she said.

Waqar Hashmi, the commissioner for transgender community at Wafayi Mohtasib [Federal Ombusman] Secretariat, who also worked with the activists and senators on the bill declared it a day of victory.

“A law is like a backbone which gives a structure, no matter how much mass is gained, without a skeleton, the mass remains useless,” she said. “The law is necessary because everywhere the bifurcation is on the basis of man and woman, so it was definitely the need of the time.”

She also lauded the community for taking charge of the bill and said that their efforts bore fruit. Model and activist Kami Sid, who is behind the organisation Sub Rung, said it was a collective effort and the bill showed that the state also considers the transgender community as equal citizens. “I am glad for the community especially those members who are yet to know their rights because they can achieve far more when they are aware of their rights,” she said.