The conservative Muslim nation of Pakistan is mulling new legislation that seeks to protect the fundamental rights of transgender people.
According to local reports, two bills on the issue were introduced in the lower house of parliament last week. One seeks amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code to specifically protect transgender individuals from sexual harassment and other offenses; the other, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, covers a variety of issues, including the right of trans individuals to hold public office, to inherit property and to access public places.
This is the first time legislation aimed at protecting transgender people ― an “often-ignored segment of society” ― has been introduced in Pakistan, reported the country’s English-language newspaper Dawn.
The outlet said that the bill’s authors report transgender people are among the “most marginalized communities in the country, and face social exclusion, discrimination, lack of education and facilities and unemployment.”
“Transgender rights are an integral part of human rights, and need to be safeguarded,” the Dawn wrote, based on what the authors said.
Pakistan is something of a paradox when it comes to queer rights. On the one hand, homosexuality remains illegal in the country and discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals is reportedly rampant. Yet, Pakistan has proved considerably more progressive when it comes to transgender issues (though abuse and discrimination against trans people remains widespread).
In 2012, for instance, the country’s Supreme Court ruled to include a third gender identity option on national identification cards. In June, Pakistan became one of just a few countries to include a third gender category on its passports. (The U.S. offers no such option to its citizens, but a handful of other nations including Australia, India and Denmark do.)
Pakistan’s growing recognition of the transgender community is thought to stem from the country’s long and complicated relationship with hijras, a term used in South Asia to refer to eunuchs, intersex individuals or transgender women, Vox explained. Hijras were celebrated in ancient religious texts as powerful figures, and from at least the 16th century, were considered bearers of good fortune and fertility. All that changed, however, when the British took control of India in the 19th century and began clamping down on the rights of hijras. Members of the community have been fighting to regain their rights ever since.
Pakistan is home to at least half a million hijras today, according to local activist group Trans Action.
As the recognition of the transgender community in Pakistan continues to grow, the U.S., led by President Donald Trump, appears to be going the other way on the issue.
In February, the Trump administration revoked Obama-era guidance to public schools that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice. Last month, Trump tweeted that trans people will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.