Ongoing fight for trans rights in Malaysia

Published: December 18, 2014

Colin Stewart
Original Article:

Transgender people in Malaysia may soon have fewer legal barriers to expressing their gender freely, thanks to a recent ruling in a state appeals court. The Malaysia Court of Appeal in the city of Putrajaya ruled last month that three trans women were not bound by legal prohibitions on “impersonating” someone of the opposite gender.

Aston Paiva, the lawyer for the four unidentified plaintiffs, successfully argued that trans people have a medical condition that makes it nearly impossible to live in their biologically assigned gender. The court upheld Paiva’s argument, and also found that the provision violated rights to human dignity and free movement enshrined in the Malaysian constitution.

Malaysia has two simultaneously operating legal systems: a system descended from British common law and a system of Islamic law adapted from Sharia. In theory, the constitutional law system is applicable to all Malaysians and has primacy, while the Sharia law system is only applicable to members of Malaysia’s majority Muslim community.

In practice, however, members of other ethnic groups are also arrested for violating the Sharia code. In every state in Malaysia, it is an offence under the Sharia code for Muslim men to “wear a woman’s attire or pose as a woman” in a public place; those arrested and convicted for “posing as a woman” can face fines of up to 1000 ringgit (US$ 289).

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