Yesterday the Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights body with 47 member countries, adopted a landmark resolution on the rights of transgender people. This provides a much-needed roadmap for a region in which at least 33 countries still require humiliating and invasive procedures as a precondition for legal gender recognition.
The resolution is timely as changes to gender recognition procedures gain momentum in countries such as Denmark and Malta. Additionally, age restrictions on gender recognition have been reduced in the Netherlands, and *Ireland, in its first ever attempt to institute a gender recognition law, is moving toward more rights-based legislation.
But the resolution also points to the persistent rights abuses transgender people in Europe face.
In its 2013 survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that only half of transgender respondents were doing paid work, which impacted their ability to maintain a livelihood and access healthcare. In the five years preceding the survey, one-third of transgender respondents were threatened with violence.
The council’s resolution, adopted by its Parliamentary Assembly, calls on governments to address these issues by adopting quick and transparent gender recognition procedures based on self-identification. It calls for hate crime legislation, analyzing the best interests of transgender children in cases of young people seeking care and recognition, and abolishing humiliating medical requirements such as mental illness diagnoses and invasive, irreversible surgeries, such as sterilization.
All such measures would bring countries’ laws in line with international human rights obligations and allow transgender people to access services on equal footing with their peers.
On April 1, Malta’s parliament unanimously passed Europe’s most rights-respecting gender recognition law. Speaking at yesterday’s debate, Helena Dalli, Malta’s minister for social dialogue, put things in perspective. “The adoption of this law generated international interest,” Dalli told the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, referencing emphatic statements of support from civil society and positive media coverage. “But beyond the international acclaim, what fills me with joy is the impact on individual lives of transgender, queer, and intersex people.”
That’s the next step across Europe – taking this resolution from text to action and improving lives by upholding basic rights.
*Correction: The original version of this news release stated that Ireland was the the European Union’s last country to adopt a gender recognition law.