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Transgender Pakistanis Will Be Officially Recognized as Citizens for First Time Ever

AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen

Transgender Pakistanis will soon be recognized as equal citizens under the law.

The Transgender Persons Protection of Rights bill will be introduced to Pakistan’s National Assembly in the coming weeks, and activists expect it will pass with the support of all the major political parties, the New York Times reports.

This is the first legislation of its kind to appear in Pakistan that seeks to protect the rights of one of the country’s most “marginalized and disadvantaged communities,” according to the Hindu.

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The bill gives individuals the right to identify as a transgender person, and to enjoy the same rights as men and women in Pakistan. That includes anyone whose gender identity differs from cultural norms or their sex assigned at birth, such as intersex people, eunuchs and transgender men and women.

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“We are pushing for this bill because it is the right of these people, not only a right as human being but as citizens of this country,” Naeema Kishwar Khan, a member of Parliament, told The New York Times.

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Khan, a leader of a major religious party in Pakistan, the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, sponsored the bill in Parliament and said that no political group has come out against the bill.

While Pakistan is considered a more conservative country, this bill follows a series of other victories for transgender rights in the country.

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In the past five years, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has legalized transgender people’s right to pursue their education, inherit property, and vote. It also issued a religious edict allowing transgender people with “visible signs” of their gender to marry.

Transgender people are now included in the general census, and this year the government issued its first passport with a transgender category.

People in Pakistan often use the umbrella term “khawaja siras” to describe transgender people, eunuchs, and intersex people. Being a part of the khawaja siras community can offer some transgender people a semblance of acceptance and family, but some activists argue that this sanctuary community separates people identifying as khawaja siras from the rights and fair treatment they deserve.

Although the new bill represents another legal victory for transgender people in Pakistan, Pakistan’s cultural community and media still have to make many strides toward ending the discrimination and violence against transgender people, activists told The New York Times.

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Transgender people face discrimination, sexual assault, and murder, according to Kamran Arif, vice president of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Many are often abandoned by their families, and forced into prostitution to make a living. Some are subjected to life as a circus “oddity.”

Last year Human Rights Watch called on authorities to investigate and take action on the surge of violence against transgender women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

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Some attempts to normalize acceptance and understanding of transgender people has been made in Pakistan’s society, including a new comic book featuring a transgender protagonist.

While the new bill will recognize transgender people’s rights as citizens, societal acceptance is a process that could take much longer.