Pakistan should feel proud. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 has been passed into law; coming into immediate effect. This is good news all round. Its aim, after all, is to afford equal rights to the transgender community and it does so. At least up to a certain point. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the Act represents a monumental landmark in the ongoing struggle to secure minority rights here in Pakistan. Official statistics put the transgender population at just below the 10,500-mark. Yet rights groups such as Trans Action estimate this figure to be more than 500,000. The Act effectively outlaws discrimination of the transgender community based solely on sexual identity and expression. In real terms, this translates into the fields of education, employment, accessing healthcare and public services including public transport, as well as accommodation when it comes to buying, selling or renting property. Moreover, the Act outlines the government’s responsibilities to establish protection centres and safe houses to facilitate the rehabilitation of this most marginalised of communities. The federal set-up is also committed to providing medical facilities, psychological care and adult education to the transgender population. And then there is the matter of constructing separate prisons and detention centres. Thus it is hoped that the incoming regime ensures adequate budgetary requirements towards these ends and enforces their implementation. But perhaps the most important stipulation is the right to self-identify and inheritance. All of which means that the Act has the basics right. Though there remain a few areas where it falls short. To begin with, Chapter 1 2(h) deals with harassment of a sexual, physical, mental and psychological nature. Which is at should be. But it needs to go further to include sexual violence such as rape. This is not about mere semantics. As Pakistan’s #MeToo moment expertly highlights — the perpetrators of sexual misconduct all too often take refuge in that self-constructed grey area that hovers somewhere between inappropriate behaviour to brutal violation. Thus is it anticipated that this will be addressed in any possible amendments. Elsewhere, the Act is silent on the question of the right to reproductive self-determination. Let us take the case of a transgender man, for example, who still has female reproductive organs. Does this individual have the right to childbirth? This does not represent entirely unchartered waters as cases in the US and elsewhere underscore. Similarly, there is no mention of the right to adopt or, indeed, marry. Again, these issues must be brought up for further deliberation. Be that as it may, the Act envisages helping the transgender community particularly in socio-economic terms. This is to be welcomed. Especially as this group has been typically tolerated as long as they kept to begging and sex work. The recognised right to economic self-determination is the first step towards mainstreaming and acceptance. Though the biggest challenge now remains implementing this legislation in letter and spirit. For as almost any Pakistani woman will confirm — a gap all too often exists between what a law is supposed to deliver and what it actually does. Yet for now, the country’s transgender community has every right to celebrate. For this victory is theirs. * Published in Daily Times, May 10th 2018.