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Pakistani transgenders get expanded rights

Transgender hijras in Pakistan
Pakistani transgender people, or "hijras," hold banners to mark Worlds AIDS Day during a protest in Karachi on December 1, 2009. RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan is well known for being a fiercely conservative Muslim country. Two politicians have already been assassinated there this year for opposing the country's so-called "blasphemy laws," which ban blasphemy against Islam under the penalty of death.

So it may come as a surprise to many that Pakistani transgender people, known as "hijras," have gained expanded federal protection and recognition in the last few years.

Pakistan's Supreme Court decided recently to allow a third gender category on the national identity card, BBC reports. The move to officially recognize the estimated 50,000 transgenders in Pakistan has faced little opposition.

"I personally feel it is a good decision by our highest court," Brigadier Ehsan ul-Haq, who is in charge of the national database and registration authority in Karachi, told the BBC. "Transgenders wanted recognition for their community. Why not reflect them as having a separate identity if it is biologically so?"

Under the guidance of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Pakistan's judicial system has shown increasing sympathy for the plight of the transgender community, The Guardian reports, adding that authorities have been ordered to ensure hijras enjoy the same rights as other Pakistanis in matters of inheritance, employment and election registration.

Transgender people in South Asia have a long history of being part of the fabric of society, which may explain why the moves by Pakistan's Supreme Court to protect them has faced little opposition.

Pakistan's hijras still face widespread discrimination and harassment, but the governmental protection of their rights puts them at the forefront of the international community in officially recognizing their unique position in society.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force wrote in a report recently that, in America, "transgender and gender non-conforming people face rampant discrimination in every area of life: education, employment, family life, public accommodations, housing, health, police and jails, and ID documents."

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