Pakistan's transvestites to get distinct gender

Wed Dec 23, 2009 10:06am EST
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By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered authorities on Wednesday to allow transvestites and eunuchs to identify themselves as a distinct gender as part of a move to ensure their rights, a lawyer said.

Known by the term "hijra" in conservative Muslim Pakistan, transvestites, eunuchs and hermaphrodites are generally shunned by society.

They often live together in slum communities and survive by begging and dancing at carnivals and weddings. Some are also involved in prostitution.

Iftikhar Chaudhry, chief justice of Pakistan, ordered the government to give national identity cards to members of the community showing their distinct gender and to take steps to ensure that they were not harassed.

"The government's registration authority has been directed to include a separate column in national identity cards showing them as hijras," Mohammad Aslam Khaki, a lawyer for hijras told Reuters.

"By doing so, they think they will get a distinct identity and it will help them get their rights."

A hijra association welcomed Chaudhry's order, saying it would ease their suffering.

"It's the first time in the 62-year history of Pakistan that such steps are being taken for our welfare," the association's president, who goes by the name Almas Bobby, told Reuters.   Continued...