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April 23, 2013


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Monica Eppinger

Excellent food for thought, and a great example of the benefits of comparative research. Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Jeff. Question: what would Pakistan's law say about gender shifters? Does declaration of one's gender have to be once-and-for-all?

Jeff Redding

Monica, thanks for your question. I plan on returning to Pakistan to conduct more in-depth fieldwork, in part to answer questions like yours (I'm also curious to see what the modified national identity card forms list as available genders to choose from). So, I'm not sure as of yet. I imagine that there will have to be some recognition of gender-shifting, since people go through transitions at all points in life, and one of the complaints in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan was that people were prevented from voting when their national identity card listed a gender that seemed inconsistent with people's self-presentations at voting stations. The Supreme Court has tried to resolve that with their different orders that they've issued in this (ongoing) matter since 2009. Here's a link that you may find interesting:


So, I followed the link and I'm still not sure what the four or five genders are. I understand that cultural constructions from Pakistan may not translate into English well. Are these new categories, like in the U.S.? Are these old categories? Pakistan is multi-ethnic, so are these categories recognized across Pakistan?

Jeff Redding

Anon, thanks for your question. So, I've yet to completely verify all of this, but based on an interview that I conducted with the lawyers in Islamabad who initiated the 2009 litigation, there are now at least the following four gender options on National Identity Card applications: 1) Male, 2) Female, 3) Khwaja Sira (male), and 4) Khwaja Sira (female). Khwaja Sira is a Mughal Empire-era Urdu term that has been revived to refer to a group of people who have been more colloquially and commonly called 'eunuchs' (in English) and 'hijras' (in Urdu/Hindi); Khwaja Sira is deemed to be more respectful. There are apparently some Khwaja Sira who identify as more male, and some who identify as more female. The other fifth gender option that I've heard mentioned is 'khunsa-e-muskhil' and the translation of this is especially difficult since this this is a highly Arabacized expression; I think the intention is to represent those who were *born* as hermaphrodites rather than those who went through a gender transformation (later in life). From what I've been told, there will be no medical examination required for anyone who identifies any which way, though I imagine that talking to people on the ground might reveal contrary bureaucratic experiences.

And as to your other question, there are other gender groupings altogether which are not represented in this typology. What was then known as the Northwest Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) submitted a report to the Supreme Court during the 2009 litigation in which the NWFP reported a whole other assortment of gender categories operative in that province (at least). Thanks again for your question and the opportunity to clarify!


Jeff, Thanks very much. Very helpful, esp. for those of us to need to brush up on their Arabacized Urdu.

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