Let transgenders vote!

Published: November 18, 2011
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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.