More than 600 transgender people applied for civil service jobs in Nepal last year, according to a government report released last week. LGBT rights activists hail the announcement as practical progress toward implementing Nepal’s identity-based legal third gender category.
However, the civil service’s hiring numbers for transgender people – who frequently face employment discrimination – remain unknown.
Nepal moved toward recognizing a third gender when the Supreme Court, in 2007, ruled that individuals should have their gender legally recognized based on “self-feeling” and that they should not have to limit themselves to “female” or “male.”
Since then, activists have fought successfully to have a third category added to citizenship documents, public bathrooms, and even the federal census. In 2015, the government began issuing passports in three genders. Transgender people appear in the constitution in the enumeration of disadvantaged groups that are guaranteed participation in state mechanisms.
But even with legal progress obtaining appropriate documents, many transgender Nepalis struggled to find jobs. Since 1993, Nepal’s Civil Service Act has mandated that some jobs be reserved for people from certain castes, ethnic minorities, and women – but never for transgender people. So it was a welcome inclusive signal that civil service application forms included three genders in 2015.
Other countries in the region – namely Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan – now legally recognize more than two genders in some way. But while legal proclamations can be promising, implementation has been piecemeal. For example, Bangladesh in 2014 recognize a third gender “hijra” category, but a program designed to provide government jobs to hijras instead resulted in abusive and humiliating experiences for them.
Nepal’s example of coupling policy and pragmatic change is an important one. Inclusion is not achieved in court cases and legal change alone, but when participation is encouraged and guaranteed for all.