A safe and inclusive society for transgender people in China

November 13, 2018

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Agi Veres is the UNDP Country Director in China

Earlier this year, an appeals court in Guiyang upheld the lower court’s decision in favour of the plaintiff in China’s first lawsuit involving employment discrimination against transgender persons. In the judgment, the court stated that “workers should not experience differential treatment based on their gender identity and expression”, which marks a significant milestone on the road to ending discrimination based on gender identity. However, workplace discrimination is but a facet of challenges faced by transgender people in China.

Transgender people are those whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Some pursue medical interventions to align their assigned sex with their identity; others do not. Transgender people are found in all communities around the world, including in China, though they may be compelled to hide their gender identity to avoid prejudice and problems.

Transgender people in China confront significant challenges. Social stigma and discrimination against them are common in schools and universities, businesses and public offices. They can be shut out of employment, have problems pursuing their education, and be rejected by their families. Lack of access to clinical care is commonplace among transgender populations in China – a recent survey of transgender people in China reflects that among 62 per cent of respondents demanding access to hormone therapy, only 6 per cent were able to access satisfactory care.

A recent report by UNDP and the China Women’s University, Legal Gender Recognition in China: A Legal and Policy Review, examined the lives of transgender people in China and how Chinese laws and policies affect them. A key issue is that it is often difficult to change their names and gender markers on official identity documents. This can lead to employers or potential employers refusing to accept their educational qualifications. It can mean that they have no choice but to reveal they are transgender in the workplace, or when accessing health and other public services.

Furthermore, transgender people lack legal recognition and protection, which makes them both vulnerable and marginalized. As the word ‘transgender’ does not appear in policies on rights and employment or in the new national AIDS strategy, it is uncertain if they can be officially protected against discrimination and harm.

Another issue faced by transgender people is that China has restrictive requirements for them to be candidates for gender-affirming surgery, in order for them to physically be more aligned with their gender identity. They are required to have consent from their workplace human resources department and their family (difficult if the family does not accept them), to be of an older age than what is considered adult in China (older than 20 rather than 18 years old), and to be unmarried, even though there are cases where the spouse of a transgender person is supportive of their undergoing gender-affirming surgery.    

China has committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the commitment to “leave no one behind”. UNDP believes that reducing gender inequalities and empowering vulnerable groups is vital to achieving the SDGs. Working together as a society, China can protect the rights of all its citizens, make sure they are free of harm and discrimination, and also make their lives better.

There is much work to be done to promote legal gender recognition and inclusion for transgender people and create laws and policies that will facilitate an enabling environment for transgender people to access education, employment, health and other public services. We hope that all stakeholders and partners – government, the private sector, academia and ordinary citizens – will join hands together for a better future for transgender people in China.