Bangkok – The vast majority of transgender people across the region are unable to obtain any official identification documents that reflect their gender identity. This lack of gender recognition fosters widespread social exclusion, stigma, discrimination and violence when individuals are perceived to deviate from gender norms because their gender identity and/or expression does not coincide with their sex assigned at birth.
This is one of the key findings from the study entitled Legal Gender Recognition of Transgender People: A Multi-Country Legal and Policy Review in Asia. Released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN), the study was conducted over an 18-month period and provides a comprehensive review of existing laws, policies and practices in nine countries in Asia. Over 220 transgender people from more than 80 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) civil society groups added their voice and lived realities to the study.
“Legal gender recognition can be a first step in addressing stigma and discrimination, but it is far from enough, it is the practice in reality that matters in the end,” said H.E. Staffan Herrström, Ambassador for Sweden in Thailand. “Concerted efforts are needed to work against stigma and discrimination of transgender people. We in the international community can contribute to address discrimination and violence through our engagement, financial support and willingness to listen.”
Legal gender recognition is the official recognition of a person’s gender identity, including gendered information and name in public registries and key documents. It is a fundamental requirement for many transgender people to meaningfully participate in society and to prevent discrimination. Globally, there is a movement to provide legal gender recognition to transgender people based on human rights standards that respect self-determination.
“This report illustrates that a lack of legal gender recognition remains one of the most significant barriers to social inclusion, access to health and social services and enjoyment of human rights for transgender people in Asia,” stated Nadia Rasheed, Team Leader of the HIV, Health and Development Team of UNDP in Asia Pacific.
The report found that progress has been made in the provision of legal gender recognition in many of the countries reviewed; Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan recognize a third gender on specific government-issued documents.
Of the countries reviewed, only China provides a clear administrative process for transgender people to change gender markers on official identity documents from male to female or vice versa. The process, however, is subject to restrictive eligibility criteria.
“Gender identity should have no bearing or barrier on whether someone can enjoy fundamental rights, like the ability to be recognized by their government or to access health care, employment or education without gender discrimination, hence legal gender identity recognition is of absolute importance to the livelihoods, safety and wellbeing of trans peoples,” said Phylesha Brown-Acton, Co-Chair, Asia Pacific Transgender Network.
Among the reviewed countries in which gender recognition has not been formalized, progress has been made in other areas. For instance, in 2015, Thailand’s Gender Equality Act specifically included transgender people under the definition of ‘gender’ and as protected from unfair gender discrimination; in the Philippines, gender identity is included as a protected ground in some local anti-discrimination ordinances.
Despite positive policy developments in some countries, the report illustrates that eligibility criteria or other restrictions set out in laws, policies, regulations or court decisions, or imposed through administrative practices, effectively exclude many transgender people from obtaining government identification documents which reflect their gender identity.
These restrictions include requiring gender affirming medical interventions, a mental health diagnosis, family approval and that applicants are unmarried (and if they are already married, requiring proof of divorce) to avail legal gender recognition. They contribute to social stigma and discrimination, and often contradict existing constitutional rights against discrimination.