Pakistani transgender activists appeal Sharia court ruling aimed at protecting them

ISLAMABAD — Transgender activists in Pakistan have said they plan to appeal to the country’s highest court against a ruling by an Islamic court that violates a law designed to protect their rights.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed by Parliament in 2018 to ensure the fundamental rights of transgender Pakistanis. It provides them with access to legal recognition of gender, including rights.

Many Pakistanis have rigid beliefs about gender and sexuality, and transgender people are often seen as outcasts. Some are forced to beg, dance and even prostitute themselves to earn money. They are also afraid of attacks.

The Federal Shariat Court on Friday struck down several provisions of the landmark law, calling them “un-Islamic”.

It stated that a person cannot change their gender based on their “innermost feeling” or “sense of self” and must conform to the biological sex assigned to them at birth.

The Sharia court’s constitutional mandate is to examine and determine whether laws passed by the Pakistani parliament are in accordance with Islamic doctrine.

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“We definitely intend to appeal the court’s findings to the Supreme Court and we will win,” Nayyab Ali, managing director of Transgender Rights Consultants Pakistan, told a press conference on Friday.

Ali said the transgender community was “mourning” Pakistan’s first transgender rights law in response to the Islamic court’s finding.

But clerics and representatives of religious parties say the law could promote homosexuality in this conservative, Muslim-majority country. They want the Islamic court to overturn the law.

The Shariah court ruled that the term “transgender” as used in the law was confusing. It covers many biological variants, including intersex, transgender male, transgender female, and Khawaja Sira, a Pakistani term commonly used for those who were born male but identify as female.

He also rejected a provision in the law that allows the country’s national database and registration authority to change a person’s biological gender in identification documents assigned at birth, including driver’s licenses and passports.

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He said that allowing anyone to change their gender according to their inner feeling or identity would cause “serious religious, legal and social problems”.

For example, it allows a transgender woman – a biologically male person – to access women’s social and religious gatherings or women-only public spaces, and vice versa.

“This law paves the way for criminals in society to easily commit crimes such as sexual harassment, sexual harassment and even rape against women in the guise of transgender women,” the court said.

However, the court stated that Islamic law recognizes the existence of intersex people and eunuchs and stated that they should be entitled to all the fundamental rights granted to Pakistanis in the constitution.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed dismay at the “regressive decision” and said that denying the right of transgender people to self-identity is “aimed at eradicating an entire demographic and its fundamental rights”. He said withdrawing the transgender bill would lead to further marginalization and abuse of an already vulnerable Pakistani community.

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Amnesty International has called on the government to end all attempts to prevent transgender people from obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity without complying with abusive and invasive requirements.

Rehab Mahamoor, research assistant at Amnesty International, said in a statement: “This ruling is a blow to the rights of the already oppressed group of transgender and gender diverse people in Pakistan.

He said any move to deny transgender and gender identity differences the right to determine their own gender identity violates international human rights law.