Nepal will include third gender for the first time

Nepal has introduced a “third gender” category on its 2021 census in a move applauded by some LGBTQ+ advocates. Others question whether it will be enough.

Theoretically, the data will allow LGBTQ+ people to advocate for better legal rights and protections from the government. Nepal has in place legal quotas for certain vulnerable groups in workplaces and educational environments, and also offers discounted healthcare to designated minorities. LGBTQ+ people have, thus far, been omitted from these benefits because their numbers were not tracked in the census.

Advocates estimate that roughly 900,000 of the country’s 30 million residents are queer or transgender.

While Nepal technically included a third gender option on its previous census 10 years ago, the data collection process was marred by problems ranging from discrimination from census takers to respondents’ fears of being outed, according to The New Republic. These administrative problems ultimately resulted in a lack of usable data.

The government was also met with criticism during the 2011 census for including all LGBTQ+ identities under the “third gender” category.

But some advocates argue that adding just one question to the census is not enough. Activist Rukshana Kapali, along with several others, has filed a complaint against the methodology in Nepal’s Supreme Court, as well as with its National Human Rights Commission. “Using ‘Others’ as terminology to refer to gender identity is highly contested and even considered derogatory for many,” told Kapali. “Not acknowledging different identities is failing to realise the different forms of oppression, marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination, violence and non-representation of those distinct social groups.”

Others hope that the census will pave the way for the collection of more comprehensive data on the country’s LGBTQ+ population in the years to come.

The mountain nation, which began including a third gender category on citizenship documents in 2013 and passports in 2015, has some of the most progressive LGBTQ+ rights legislation in South Asia. The country outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in 2007 and expanded those protections to areas like employment and housing in 2016.

LGBTQ+ people have maintained, though, that these legal protections do not necessarily translate to social acceptance. Members of the community still face discrimination in all areas of public life, a fact that lawmakers have largely ignored, according to the Associated Press.

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