In a landmark ruling, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has taken a progressive step by officially recognizing a third gender, allowing the hijra community—which comprises transgender individuals, transvestites, and eunuchs—to register as such on their national identity cards. This decision places Pakistan ahead in terms of progressive human rights law, especially when compared to countries like the United States.
A Community Recognized
The hijra community in Pakistan, often marginalized and vulnerable, has finally received legal acknowledgment, allowing them to be identified as hijras when applying for national identity cards. These cards are crucial as they are required for various activities, ranging from voting to accessing the internet at cybercafés. Without a correct identity card, individuals are left susceptible and can be easily ostracized from society.
Implications Beyond Borders
This ruling has implications that extend beyond Pakistan’s borders. In neighboring India, individuals are required to specify their gender on voter ID cards and at polling stations, a practice that had previously disenfranchised many from the transgender and transvestite communities until the government introduced a third option for voting purposes. However, the directive in Pakistan seems to have a broader scope and deeper impact.
Enforcement of Rights and Protections
Alongside the recognition, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry emphasized the enforcement of hijras’ inheritance rights, which are often overlooked informally, and declared that any form of police harassment would not be tolerated. This could be indicative of more inclusive and protective rulings in the future.
Reflection on Gender Egalitarianism
The ruling raises questions about the indicators used to measure gender egalitarianism among different states. While there are various indicators such as fertility rates, the percentage of women in the workforce or government, and the existence of laws against marital rape, most of these primarily reflect women’s empowerment rather than the absence of gender hierarchies in society. The recognition of gender-coding in census data could be a significant measure of a state’s commitment to gender inclusiveness.
Contradictions and Challenges
However, this progressive ruling contrasts starkly with the prevailing conditions in a country where women and gender minorities, along with their defenders, continue to face persecution from both the state and tribal elites. It brings forth the paradox of having progressive human rights laws in a country where enforcement is often lax, and the marginalized continue to face significant challenges.
A Step Towards Inclusivity
This ruling is a monumental stride towards gender inclusiveness in Pakistan, sparking debates on whether other countries should follow suit and whether human rights activists should advocate for similar recognitions globally. It stands as a testament to the ongoing struggle for gender equality and the rights of gender minorities, highlighting the need for legal recognitions and protections to be coupled with effective enforcement and societal acceptance.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s acknowledgment of a third gender is a beacon of progressive change, reflecting a commitment to gender inclusiveness and the rights of marginalized communities. While the ruling is a significant advancement, the real impact will be measured by the enforcement of these rights and the societal acceptance and integration of gender minorities, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable society.
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