Pakistan passes historic transgender law guaranteeing basic rights for citizens

A Pakistani transgender activist poses for a photograph as they take part in a demonstration in Karachi on November 20, 2017. The event was held to mark World Transgender Day. / AFP PHOTO / ASIF HASSAN (Photo credit should read ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan’s parliament has passed a law guaranteeing basic rights for transgender people, in a move hailed by advocates as historic for the country.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act allows people to self-identify as male, female or non-binary and to have that identity recorded on official documents, including passports and ID cards.

It guarantees citizens the right to a gender identity defined as “a person’s innermost and individual sense of self” that can “correspond or not to the sex assigned at birth.”

The bill, passed by MPs in the capital Islamabad, also prohibits discrimination in public places, including schools, hospitals and on public transport.

It ensures trans citizens are given the right to vote in national, provincial and local government elections, the right to run for public office and guarantees their right to inheritance.

Pakistani transgender activists carry placards through Karachi (ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty)

It also calls on the Pakistani government to establish safe houses for citizens at risk of violence and provide psychological counselling to those who need it.

The bill, which will now go to Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain to be signed into law, also calls for the government to provide separate rooms in prisons where transgender citizens may be detained.

Human rights activists have praised the bill for helping to pave the way for greater acceptance and inclusivity at a time when members of the trans community continue face disproportionate violence and discrimination.

At least 57 transgender people have been killed in Pakistan since 2015, according to Human Rights Watch.


Pakistani transgender citizens face violence and discrimination (Getty)

Last week, a transgender woman was fatally shot in northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the fourth killing of a trans citizen in the country this year.

In 2016, a trans woman died of a shot wound while waiting for treatment, after the district hospital refused to admit her saying they only had “male and female” wards.

Speaking to Pakistan’s NPR, Mehlab Jameel, the activist who helped write the bill, said the law was “not only unprecedented in Pakistani history” but was one of the “most progressive laws in the whole world”.

Jameel said the bill was a “step in the right direction” but added there was still a way to go to protect Pakistani trans citizens.

Writing on Twitter, Jameel said the move was the “result of collective & prolonged struggle of the community over decades.

“People who protested on roads, those who bore brutalities on their bodies, those who suffer in silence — this is a result of their pain & labour.”