Pakistan’s parliament passed a historic bill on Tuesday that allows citizens to self-identify their gender on all official documentation and protects the rights of its transgender citizens. It’s a major milestone for the conservative South Asian country.
While Pakistan issued its first passports with a third gender category, "X," last year, the groundbreaking bill gives people the right to choose between male, female, “a blend of both,” or neither, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth, Al Jazeera reported. The bill’s language paves the way for a wider range of people to be given rights, including those who identify as trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming.
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The legislation also recognizes the long-awaited basic rights of transgender Pakistanis, explicitly giving them the right to vote, run for office, inherit property, and be free from discrimination.
The bill now awaits the signature of President Mamnoon Hussain, NPR reported.
"If the President signs off on this law, it will put Pakistan ahead of most countries globally when it comes to protections for trans people,” Rashima Kwatra, communications officer at the nonprofit OutRight Action International, told Global Citizen.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, few countries in the Asia-Pacific region legally recognize trans and non-binary genders, making it difficult for transgender people in the region to obtain official identification documents that reflect their identity.
The road to securing rights and recognition for Pakistan’s transgender community has not been a smooth one. The country welcomed its first transgender news anchor on air in March — a major win — yet just last week made headlines for the fourth murder of a transgender woman in Pakistan this year. And when it comes to LGBTQ rights overall, homosexuality remains criminalized.
While the bill’s passing is an undeniable victory, its impact — if signed and put into effect by the president — remains to be seen.
Since 2015, over 50 transgender people have been killed in the country, and activists and victims have reported discriminatory and abusive treatment at the hands of medical professionals and law enforcement officers.
“The success of the law and what impact it will have on the lives of trans people will rest on how well it is enforced,” Kwatra said. “Regardless, [the passing of the bill] is a testament to the strength and perseverance of the trans community in the country."
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