Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pakistan's Supreme Court acts to protect transgenders, recognizing them as a third gender

 by Dawood Ahmed

In the wake of the much criticised Mukhtar Mai decision handed down a couple of weeks ago, a significant judgment by the Supreme Court of Pakistan has sadly gone unnoticed; on April 25, the court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhury, directed NADRA to issue national identity cards to transgenders (commonly known as hijras in South Asia) with a specific gender category of ‘khwaja sira’ instead of the rather inappropriate ‘male’ and ‘female’.

Despite centuries of existence in the subcontinent, eunuchs are subject to discrimination at every level of not only Pakistani, but much of South Asian society. They are ostracised, forced to live in segregated ghettos and are often reduced to begging, prostitution and derogatory entertainment to earn a living. A lack of understanding of their identity and the failure of the education system to inform people of their plight, has ensured that this vicious cycle of discrimination has continued unabated.

Fortunately however, the Supreme Court has quietly been instigating a subtle but important human rights revolution for the eunuch community over the past couple of years: for example, in different decisions, it has ordered the police to stop harassing them and prompted the government to ensure that they are recognised as a third sex on surveys. As such, the decision given last week is simply a continuation of a policy of creative jurisprudence that merits praise for at least a few different reasons.

Firstly, recognition of a third gender for these eunuchs is the first step towards providing them with individual identity and dignity that is necessary for them to be able to maximise their social and economic worth in society. This symbolic autonomy could, in the long term, translate not only into financial and social gain for them but for society generally by allowing them to engage in more productive forms of employment through gradual de-stigmatisation. Also, by providing them with absolutely basic human rights in the form of sexual identity, the court has demonstrated that their status is not a source of embarrassment, but is in fact very much worthy of official recognition – rather than merge them into a category they did not belong to, they have been given a space of their own.

Dawood's story continues here


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