Transgender activists in Pakistan have said they plan to appeal to the country’s highest court against an Islamic court’s decision to strike down a law designed to protect their rights.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed by Parliament in 2018 to ensure the fundamental rights of transgender Pakistanis. Among other rights, it provides them with access to legal gender recognition.
Many Pakistanis have ingrained beliefs about gender and sexuality, and transgender people are often seen as outcasts. Some are forced to beg, dance and even engage in prostitution to earn money. They also live in fear of attacks.
The Federal Sharia Court on Friday struck down several provisions of the landmark law, calling them “un-Islamic”.
It ruled that a person cannot change their gender based on a “gut feeling” or “feeling” and must conform to the biological sex assigned to them at birth.
The Sharia Court has a constitutional mandate to review and determine whether laws passed by the Parliament of Pakistan are in accordance with Islamic doctrine.
“We fully intend to appeal the court’s findings in the Supreme Court and we will win,” said Nayab Ali, chief executive of Transgender Rights Consultants Pakistan, at a press conference on Friday.
Ali said the transgender community was “grieving the destruction” of Pakistan’s first transgender rights legislation in response to the Islamic court’s ruling.
However, clerics and representatives of religious parties say the law could promote homosexuality in this conservative, Muslim-majority country. They want the Islamic court to overturn the law.
The Sharia Court ruled that the term “transgender” as used in the law was confusing. It covers several biological variations, including intersex, transsexual, transsexual, transsexual and transsexual, and Khawaja Sira, a Pakistani term generally used for those who were born male but identify as female.
He also rejected a clause in the law that would have allowed the country’s national database and registration authority to change a person’s biological gender from the one assigned at birth on identity documents, including driver’s licenses and passports.
It said that allowing any person to change their gender according to his or her inner feeling or well-being would create “serious religious, legal and social problems”.
For example, it would allow a transgender woman — someone who is biologically male — to have access to women’s social and religious gatherings or women-only public spaces, and vice versa, the report said.
“This law will pave the way for criminals in the society to easily commit crimes like sexual harassment, sexual violence and even raping women by posing as a transgender woman,” the court ruled.
However, the court said Islamic law recognizes the existence of intersex people and eunuchs and said they should have all the basic rights granted to Pakistanis in the constitution.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed concern over the “regressive decision” and said denying the rights of transgender people to a sense of gender identity seeks to “erase an entire demographic group and its fundamental rights.” It said repealing the transgender bill would further marginalize and mistreat an already vulnerable community in Pakistan.
Amnesty International has called on the government to end any attempt to prevent transgender people from obtaining official documents that reflect their gender identity without having to meet offensive and invasive requirements.
“This verdict is a blow to the rights of transgender and gender diverse people in Pakistan, who are already under siege,” said Rehab Mahamur, research fellow at Amnesty International, in a statement.
She said any move to deny transgender and gender-diverse people the right to define their gender identity would be a violation of 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 she supported the court’s decision because a large number of gay men were included in her “original and innate” eunuch community. .
She argued that those who became transgender through surgical castration were “disenfranchising” her community by affecting their access to employment opportunities under the government job quota reserved for their community.