Let transgenders vote!

Published: November 18, 2011

Eunuchs didn't willingly choose a life of seclusion and don't deserve the negative stigma attached to them. PHOTO: REUTERS

It appears to be the season for new voter demographics. With perhaps the largest, long-dormant voting segment – the Pakistani youth – finally energised to cast their ballots in the upcoming elections, it is heartening to see that a much smaller and traditionally ostracised segment of the population will also be voting next year.

The latest decision, on the part of the Supreme Court, to register transgenders as voters could not have come at a better time. Tentative estimates put the ‘third gender’ population in Pakistan between 80,000 and 300,000 people, and SC Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhery, has ordered that transgenders be enrolled as official voters. Aside from finally receiving the right to vote, the registration process will also put pressure on NADRA to issue computerised national identity cards to eunuchs so that we can finally make an accurate estimate regarding the size of this demographic.

This community has historically been neglected, and has largely been banished to certain localities in different cities. They have woefully limited job opportunities and life choices available to them.

“All I know about eunuchs is that they beg on the streets, dance at weddings and work in the sex industry,” says a Lahore Cantt resident Amina Virq.

“It’s rather tragic that people don’t know we exist beyond the scope of a ‘public nuisance’. I have been working as a housekeeper for the same family since I was a teenager and now I am 52. We are also just people,” says Shabnam, a hijra (eunuch), who works near RA Bazaar.

A recent article in Dawn titled ‘Eunuchs get on voters’ list’ refers to the hijra community as ‘gender confused persons.’ It is such bracketing of this community that is part of a larger framework that needs to be addressed when we speak about the third gender. Transgender people are not ‘sexually confused’, they do not choose the biological anomalies that make most people, often times their own parents and close relatives, alienate them and abandon them.

Transgenders are people too; they didn’t willingly choose a life of seclusion and don’t deserve the negative stigma attached to them.  They deserve all the same opportunities open to you and I in this country. The Supreme Court has taken the first steps in providing this community with jobs and now, a stake in the future of this country by giving them the opportunity to vote. In the future, we need to work on registering hijra children in schools and ensuring that they are integrated into our society rather than cast into a corner where they are easy to forget about. It is high time the transgender community receive what is their due. Being Pakistani citizens, they should be allowed to vote.

Editors note: Transgender is being used as a blanket term to cover transexuals, transvestites, individuals with genders varying from cultural convention.

Maria.Amir

Maria Amir

The writer has a Masters degree in Women's Studies from Oxford University and writes on identity, culture and current affairs

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=647842094 The Reader

    CJ’s act is commendable and so is your blog. From what I remember, he ordered recruitment of Hijras at NADRA, a very considerate although widely ridiculed recommendation. As for Hijras becoming a respectable element of our society with equal intellect and opportunities, it has a lot to do with our attitude.With our ridicule, the poor souls don’t stand a chance though.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Yeah absolutely.. allow them to vote. Treat them like humansRecommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    A transgender is no less Pakistani than any man or woman here, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to vote like the rest of their countrymen.Recommend

  • http://bakedsunshine.wordpress.com Shumaila

    Thank you for writing this. There is absolutely no sensible reason for them not to vote, or have normal jobs and homes and lives like the rest of us. This stigmatising should really stop.Recommend

  • sarmad khan

    our society is deeply homophobic and it’s both our men and women who are homophobic.
    we wear our homophobia proudly like a badge of honour,like we are doing something for the good of humanity by discriminating against or humiliating the LGBT community.
    when all rational argument fails,our people find refuge in religion to justify their vile hate for the gay and transgender community.We think we are doing god’s work by hating and discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation and our homophobes receive validation and moral support from our maulvis who go to the extent of coming on tv and airing their vile hate for the gay community.The religious support of homophobia has to end before any real change can come about.Recommend

  • Pradeep

    Transgender can’t vote under current constitution of Pakistan? Whoa!Recommend

  • MD

    Perhaps, a decade or so ago, an eunuch in India got elected to the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh’s state assembly. S/he won people’s heart by telling them that as s/he was incapable of producing children, therefore, s/he would serve the constituency with total dedication. As media reports of the time suggested, people of the constituency were very much satisfied with his/her performance as their representative.
    I don’t know what happened to him/her after that, but, a transgender’s election to the state assembly is nothing short of a miracle in the subcontinent.Recommend

  • Umer

    If the supreme court has ruled they can vote, then why are u making a fuss? Why cant you just welcome the move on a postive note? Instead of welcoming the move you, like other bloggers here, are creating problems and issues just so you can write about them. Recommend

  • MK

    @Pradeep:

    I felt a need to clarify since you seemed shocked. They can vote under the gender (male) that they were born as. Which is same as in other democracies such as US, Canada and UK. In these countries one can have sex change surgery done and can legally change their sex in documents. Castrated or cross dressing males are still considered male when voting in UK, US and Canada. Our new addition is to let them vote as transgenders as well. We are going an extra step to accomodate them. Good step since in Pakistan they do not have resources to go through a proper sex change proceeduce and generally are just gay males dressed as women or are simply castrated.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    It saddens me to see how these people are discriminated against. i wish to share an experience here. Nothing to do with voting but i want people to know that eunuchs etc are humans just like us and really nice people. In 2008, i was working in bombay.I used to get home past midnight because there was a lot of work pressure n deadlines.Bombay is a very safe place and most people commute by local trains.I was travelling home really late one night and was surprised to see that the train was relatively empty.That was wierd coz bombay is always on the move.So anyways, there was no one in my compartment except this eunuch.I was nervous coz the train was empty so i sat next to the eunuch. I just wanted to be around another human. i guess he/she realised how nervous i was because she/he tried to reassure me saying, ” daaro mat ” After an hour, the train pulled into the station i was disembarking at, and i got down.The eunuch got down too. So i smiled and asked, ( in hindi ) ” you are getting off here as well ?? ” , the eunuch replied, ” actually i was supposed to get off much earlier at dadar ( a place in bombay ) but i came along with you because you seemed to be petrified ” When i heard these words, i was too shocked to react. I watched the eunuch cross the bridge to the platform on the other side to wait for a train and go back. I didn’t even thank him/her. I was too shocked and moved to react. that’s probably the nicest thing another human has ever done for me.And so i walked home that night with tears rolling down my cheeks. Recommend

  • khan

    @Nandita.:

    that story brought tears to my eyes. after reading such things, i still have hope that this world indeed still has good human beings regardless of who they are. :)Recommend

  • Zalim singh

    yes. they are human too. Hopefully they would stop begging and start living normal lives.Recommend

  • karim khan

    I love Transgendered people. I will fight for their rights.Recommend

  • http://www.accidentallyhuman.com Sanya Shiraz

    All humans are equal, and we have no right whatsoever to decide otherwise. Great blog.Recommend

  • H

    @MD:
    if you have pronoun issues, try “hir” for transgenders. It’s legitimate, look it up. Recommend