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Lack of gender recognition holding people back in Asia Pacific

Lack of gender recognition holding people back in Asia Pacific

The Kinnar Sumaj women say they have been the victims of attacks by trans impostors.

Gender diverse people in the Asia Pacific are being held back from the lack of gender recognition in the region.

A majority of trans people cannot get official identification documents that reflect their gender identity.

Without official recognition they face social exclusion, stigma, discrimination and violence.

This is one of the key findings from the study called, ‘Legal Gender Recognition of Transgender People: A Multi-Country Legal and Policy Review in Asia’.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) released the study together.

It was conducted over 18 months and reviewed existing laws, policies and practices in nine countries in Asia. More than 220 trans people from more than 80 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.’

Why recognition is important

Legal 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.

Some progress has been made

The report found that progress has been made in the provision of legal gender recognition in many of the countries. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan recognize a third gender on specific government-issued documents.

But 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. That process is still 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.

Even in some of the countries where gender recognition has not been formalized, progress has been made in other areas. Such as, Thailand’s Gender Equality Act which specifically included transgender people under the definition of ‘gender’ and protected them from unfair gender discrimination. And in the Philippines, gender identity is included as a protected ground in some local anti-discrimination ordinances.

The report also found 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.

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.