Nepal census recognizes third gender for the first time

Nepal has just completed its first national census that officially includes a third option in the gender categories that citizens can select, opening the way for stronger recognition of sexual and gender minority rights in provision of public services.

Official recognition of third gender rights follows a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision aimed at securing rights for Nepal’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex population, adding the new category on citizenship documentation essential to access a range of health and legal services.

Highlights

  • A 2007 Supreme Court decision in Nepal added a “third gender” category to national census surveys and citizenship documents.
  • UNDP and partners have produced a 10-minute video documenting the plight of Nepal's sexual minorities.
  • Nepal's Blue Diamond Society estimates there are around 500,000 MSM and transgender people in the country, of which 6,000 are living with HIV/AIDS.

The 2007 decision required all citizenship certificates to clearly indicate an individual’s gender identity. The certificates, which work as national identity papers, are used when opening a bank account, purchasing property, accepting employment or applying for a passport.

“After the Supreme Court decision we are able to go out freely and we feel more respected – a number of us already have citizenship as third-gender,” said Bhumika Shrestha, a campaigner for sexual minority rights. “The government also set aside an annual budget for us and many official forms now provide a choice other than female or male.”

The plight of Nepal’s sexual minorities is depicted in a 10-minute documentary, Out of the Closet, produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and non-governmental organizations, including the Blue Diamond Society (BDS).

“This landmark decision is also the beginning of all the actions that need to follow,” said Shoko Noda, UNDP Country Director in Nepal. “The decision’s implementation will certainly help reduce barriers and broaden access to essential services – particularly in enhancing HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care.”

UNDP has been working on HIV/AIDS with the Government of Nepal and non-governmental organizations, managing funds from DFID and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

With support from the Global Fund, in 2006, UNDP was the first international agency to boost national organizations such as BDS which were then able to step up a range of HIV/AIDS-related services in all 14 districts of Nepal, reaching more than 185,000 people.

Nepal is the only South Asian country to recognize third gender rights. The results of this year’s census will be made public by the end of October.