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Progress for Transgender Rights in Pakistan

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There is hope for transgender people in even the darkest corners of the world. Pakistan is one of the world’s most brutal, repressive, and oppressive nations, known for its hudood laws, its violent vigilante mobs of thousands, and its apartheid legal policies and social censure of Hindus, Christians, minority ethnic groups, women, and Ahmadi Muslims.

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Transgender women have recently been slaughtered in the street and burned alive in Pakistan. Sharia hudood laws call for punishment for homosexuality, or blasphemy, that ranges from imprisonment to stoning to death.

The past few months, Pakistan has been in the news because a poor field worker who has been on death row for years for allegedly “blaspheming”—whose actual crime was being a Christian while drinking from the same water basin as Muslims—was acquitted and released.

The public was furious with the government for releasing a helpless innocent woman, and tens of thousands have taken to the streets holding signs baying for her blood. “Hang Asia Bibi!” Fires have been set, property destroyed, and several members of her legal team have been murdered in the duration of her trial. As Bibi has desperately sought asylum, merely asking to be one of the millions of refugees welcomed into safety, she has been refused by UK, Canada, and more so far.

And yet, at the end of the very same year that the streets of Pakistan have been flooded with those protesting against mercy, against women’s rights, against minority rights, against religious freedom, and FOR the death penalty for innocent women, a much smaller parade took place for freedom, life, and transgender rights.

In Lahore, on December 29, transgender folks and their allies marched for equal rights for transgender people in Pakistan. It was the first transgender march in the nation, making history.

In May of last year, a bill was passed by Pakistan Parliament recognizing the rights of transgender people to self identify, and to have that identity recorded on official documents such as passports.

The bill also prohibits discrimination in public places and ensures trans people can vote, apply for jobs, and run for office.

While the bill sounds progressive and egalitarian in theory, trans activist Neeli Rana told the Express Tribune that Pakistan is notorious for passing a bill and then letting it get swept under the rug, never brought to implementation.

This tendency can satisfy international watchdogs who are happy with token gestures, but it’s not enough for trans people in Pakistan who need real change. The transgender parade was part celebration of transgender people, and part reminder to the government and people of Pakistan that that trans people got their rights and expect them to be implemented.

Neeli Rana told the Tribune:

“This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that transgender persons have been given their rights. It is our right to protest and take to the streets. Now it is the government’s responsibility to implement this bill…”

Bravo to the freedom fighters for transgender and all minority groups in this dangerous place, who march and speak out against injustice at real risk.

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