The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz on Wednesday said that after a detailed review of the Transgender Persons (Rights of Protection) Rules, the council had reached the conclusion that “self-perceived identity” is un-Islamic.
Addressing a press conference after taking the sense of all stakeholders during a two-day meeting, he said these rules were framed in continuation of the Transgender Act and contained several provisions and clauses which were not compatible with Sharia.
The council expressed concerns over the social and legal problems faced by intersex and transgender persons, he said, adding that the protection of basic human rights of these persons must be ensured.
Dr Ayaz said the council also examined the amendment bills presented by Senator Mohsin Aziz, Senator Mushtaq Ahmed and Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri and suggested amendments to them.
Apart from the CII members and other religious scholars and leaders, representatives of the transgender community, doctors, legal and social experts, civil society organisations, the National Database and Registration Authority and Ministry of Human Rights also participated in the meeting to review all aspects of the issues pertaining to the intersex and transgender community.
‘LAW BEING MISUNDERSTOOD‘
Rights activists say the law is being misunderstood and the “misinformed” debate against it is further endangering the transgender community.
Hailed as among the more progressive laws on transgender rights globally by the International Commission of Jurists, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act gave transgender people in Pakistan the right to choose their gender identity as they perceived it themselves and to change it on previously issued government documents.
Opponents of the law claim the provision to choose or change one’s gender is un-Islamic and could open the door to same-sex marriage, currently prohibited in Pakistan.
At least six trans women have been killed since the debate on the law began. Some trans-rights activists blame lumping “transgender” together with “homosexuality” for the renewed targeting of their community. Homosexuality is a punishable offense in Pakistan.
Hashtags such as “amend trans act” and “take back the vulgar bill” were recently trending on Twitter.
Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, a member of the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami, is leading the charge against the 2018 law. According to him, allowing citizens to choose self-perceived gender identity presents a “danger to the family and inheritance systems,” as it will “open the door for 220 million people to choose to be anything.”
Pakistan uses the Islamic system of inheritance, which divides assets among descendants based on their gender. Men get twice as much as women. The act stipulated that a person identifying as a trans man would also get twice as much as a trans woman.
Pakistan’s 2018 law defines transgender as anyone with a mixture of male and female genital features or ambiguous genitalia, a person assigned male at birth but who has undergone castration, or any person whose gender identity or expression differ from their assigned sex at birth.
Khan says he does not believe “fully male” or “fully female” persons should be given the right to choose their gender if their gender perception does not match their physical or sexual anatomy. Instead, “they should seek psychological help,” he said.
He said the law should only encompass those who cannot be categorized as male or female at birth based on their sexual or reproductive anatomy.
His proposed amendments to the 2018 law include establishing medical boards that conduct detailed exams and then advise what gender a person should be.
Transgender rights activists oppose examination by a medical board to determine sexual and gender identity.
Trans activist Zanaya Chaudhry asked that since a medical exam is not required to determine a man or a woman’s gender identity, “why is this discriminatory act being forced upon transgender people?”
According to Chaudhry, the purpose of the 2018 legislation was only to protect the rights of transgender people, whom she said, “were finally being accepted as human beings.”
HARASSMENT, DEATH THREATS
Abandoned by families and relegated to mostly begging, dancing or sex work due to social stigma, transgender people in Pakistan routinely suffer harassment and many face death threats and fatal attacks.
According to data collected by the International Commission of Jurists and its partner organisations, at least 20 transgender people were killed in Pakistan in 2021.
Only a decade ago, in 2012, the country’s top court ruled that transgender people have the same rights as all other citizens and ordered that a “third gender” category be added to national identity cards.
That ruling paved the way for the 2018 legislation, which expressly prohibited discrimination against transgender people in educational institutions, workplaces and health care, and it guaranteed them a share in inheritance.
Human rights activist and lawyer Hina Jilani rejects the notion the 2018 law is against Islam. She said it’s perplexing that “a law that gave identity to a marginalized community and was passed by the parliament is being objected to now.”
Some transgender rights activists, however, are also dissatisfied with the language of the 2018 law.
Transgender rights activist Almas Bobby lamented that the trans community is still heavily stigmatized and unable to avail basic rights. Bobby contended the number of “real” transgender people in Pakistan is quite small and that this law protects those “who want to change their sex only because of a personal preference.”
Like Khan, Bobby also believes that only those with ambiguous genitalia should be called transgender.
Fawzia Arshad, a senator from one of the most popular political parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), also introduced a new bill in Aug 2022, to replace the 2018 legislation.
The proposals by senators Khan and Arshad focus on only protecting those with genital ambiguities and removing the clauses that allow a transgender person to choose their gender identity as they perceive it and spell their share in family inheritance.
The Senate chairman has forwarded the matter to the relevant standing committee for review.
The country’s religious court, known as Federal Shariat Court, is also reviewing arguments in favor of and against the 2018 law.
Pakistan’s law minister, Azam Nazir Tarar, has rejected the criticism of the law being un-Islamic as “baseless propaganda,” he has welcomed Khan’s proposed amendments, telling a press conference the word of the religious court will now be final.
In 2018, the transgender rights legislation passed with the support of all major political parties, although it was rejected by religious parties, including Khan’s Jamaat-e-Islami.
In 2021, when Khan first raised the issue to amend the law, Shireen Mazari, then the human rights minister from the ruling party PTI, opposed the move.
Why is the issue now gaining traction? Khan said his consistent work on this matter is finally paying off.