Islamabad, September 29, 2022: In an environment where the question of rights for the gender-variant people has stimulated polarization, academic and policy institutions need to play their role to reach a common ground. Such common ground should comprehend the peculiar nature of the issue to devise a solution that is in line with the normative structure of the society and simultaneously protects the rights of every individual.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 has stimulated a debate not only on the conceptual and definitional aspects but also its procedural anomalies. The Act clearly defies Islamic values and cultural norms of Pakistan in its letter and spirit. The need for a law, however, should not be undermined for the protection of the persons who are either intersex or experience gender identity disorder. Rather than being dismissive, a proactive approach aimed at finding solutions should be adopted to solve these issues and ambiguities.
These views were aired during a consultative meeting on ‘The Rights of Gender-Variant Persons’ held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad. The roundtable, moderated by Nadeem Farhat Geelani, senior research officer IPS, was joined as the key speaker by neurologist Dr. Talha Saad, while Khalid Rahman, chairman IPS; Ambassador (r) Safdar Hayat; Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, former federal secretary; Hammad Hussain Butt and Muhammad bin Sajid, both petitioners at the Federal Shariat Court; Tahir Shah, research assistant and Irfan Fazil from the research wing of the Council of Islamic Ideology; Dr. Saima Esma, visiting professor, NUML; Dr. Shagufta Omar, assistant professor, IIUI; Shoaib Madni, director, Shaoor Media Network; Abida Farheen, chairperson, Working Women Welfare Trust; Dr. Abdullah Fazi, lecturer, Curtin University Malaysia; Talha Imran; and Maryam Khan from Istanbul Zaim University, also voiced their views.
This meeting was part of consultations that IPS is holding around the issue and in which experts from the legal, medical, psychological, and social sectors, including gender-variant persons, have already shared their inputs.
Speaking on the occasion, Khalid Rahman highlighted the importance of the right legislation that ensures the protection of true gender-variant people in Pakistan in order to deal with the issues. He further stated that this needs to be supported by building a narrative that is drawn from domestic realities and helps bridge the gap between the polarized opinions.
In addition to building a logical narrative, the knowledgeable religious faction of Pakistan also needs to be included in the consultative processes for legislation so that they can effectively respond to the narratives that may harm the very fabric of society, he emphasized.
Dr. Talha Saad noted that those who are born with any ambiguities regarding their sexual organs are a rarity and the modern advancements in medical science have not only made it possible to determine their gender but also adjust it through certain procedures as and when required. The rights of such persons should not suffer in any case. Those who perceive themselves different than what they actually are can be treated therapeutically. In most cases, the psychological counseling or therapy helps such persons reconcile with their nature. Only a small fraction of 0.5% may still suffer a disorder in which behavior of a person does not conform with his physical development.
Those participating in the consultation stressed the role of medical research in finding solutions for the small 0.5% minority of people having gender identity disorders, while Muslim experts need to devise solutions that synchronize with Islamic values and cultural expectations.
Moreover, the public, being unaware of several aspects, lack an in-depth understanding of the issue. For this, it is necessary to target the knowledge gap and educate people through intellectual discussions and collaborations at multiple levels. Such collaborations are also important to bring solutions to the world at large, he argued.
Taking the debate forward, the speakers emphasized that Pakistan needs to come up with an indigenous bill that correlates with the social and Islamic realities instead of conceding to the campaign of certain segments of the western societies. For this, it is essential to expand vision and observe how other Islamic states are dealing with the issue.
While voicing their views, the participants highlighted that the transgender issue in Pakistan is multi-dimensional and no aspect of the debate should be ignored. They further recommended that all institutions concerned should come forward to contribute to the process with an aim to fill the lacunas of the present legislation and overall understanding.
The participants also emphasized that the government and society should collectively keep in check the influences and agendas of foreign forces and lobbies as the polarized environment in Pakistan could prove to be a vulnerability.