Far too often transgender people are being excluded from society and facing stigma, discrimination and violence. A key step towards addressing this marginalization is for countries to enact strong legal protections, including removing laws that directly or indirectly criminalize transgender people, and ensure policy coherence which promotes inclusion into social protection initiatives, education programmes and employment opportunities.
Government officials, transgender groups, national human rights institutions, civil society and development partners gathered in Kathmandu from 27-28 September 2018 for a regional roundtable discussion focused on developing targeted solutions to advance protective laws, policies and programmes on legal gender recognition in South Asia. The meeting was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN).
"Legal gender recognition is a fundamental requirement for transgender people to meaningfully participate in society and to prevent stigma, discrimination and human rights violations,” said Valerie Julliand, United Nations Nepal Resident Coordinator. “It is a crucial step for achieving the ultimate inclusive mission of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ‘leave no one behind’.”
Legal gender recognition is the official recognition of a person’s gender identity, including gendered information and name in public registries and key documents. Across the region, there is a movement to provide legal gender recognition to transgender people based on human rights standards that respect self-determination.
In South Asia, there has been some significant progress concerning legal gender recognition, including either Supreme Court judgments or Cabinet decisions recognizing a third gender on specific documents in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Pakistan recently passed the ‘Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018’. Additionally, in Nepal, the 2015 Constitution includes protections for sexual minorities, including third gender recognition.
Furthermore, the conference highlighted that by promoting legal gender recognition for transgender people, countries will be able to take significant steps to achieve the development targets established by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by reducing gender inequalities and empowering vulnerable groups.
These actions are in alignment with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Resolutions 66/10 and 67/9 which called on states to address punitive laws and practices that hinder responses to the AIDS epidemic. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law further recommended countries to ensure that transgender people are able to have their affirmed gender recognized in identification documents, without the need for prior medical procedures.
“While several countries in South Asia have made progress concerning legal gender recognition, including recognizing a third gender on specific documents such as passports or ID cards, issues remain concerning implementation and ensuring equality in education, employment and participation,” said Manisha Dhakal, Executive Director of Blue Diamond Society Nepal.
Approximately 50 participants from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended, as well as resource persons from South Asia, Argentina, Australia, Malta, New Zealand and other countries. The roundtable was divided into law, policy and programmatic sections so that participants could focus on specific, targeted solutions. This included discussing current gaps and challenges, effective implementation and funding structures, and sharing of good practices.
“It is important to note that humane interpretation of laws, including Constitutions of respective countries, should be the guiding principle,” said Sanji Monageng, Commissioner for the ICJ. “Courts should interpret laws that limit fundamental rights that are in the Constitutions narrowly. This also calls for progressive, fearless and forward-looking judicial officers, who understand and appreciate the very concept of non-discrimination.”
The meeting was informed by a regional initiative jointly implemented by UNDP and APTN in 2017 which undertook a comprehensive review of existing laws, policies and practices related to legal gender recognition for transgender people in Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand. The report, Legal Gender Recognition: A Multi-Country Legal and Policy Review in Asia, and country reports are available online.
Support for this roundtable and the multi-country review was provided by UNDP through the Being LGBTI in Asia programme. Being LGBTI in Asia is a regional programme aimed at addressing inequality, violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and promotes universal access to health and social services. It is supported by UNDP, the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality (Malta) and Faith in Love Foundation (Hong Kong).