A Netherlands district court cited supreme court judgments from India and Nepal when it ruled the Dutch legislature should provide a way for citizens to legally identify as neither male nor female if they prefer.
The Supreme Court of Nepal ruled in 2007 in Pant v Nepal that the government must create a legal category for people who identify as neither male nor female. Crucially, the judgment dictated that the ability to get documents bearing a third gender should be based on “self-feeling.” Nepal’s LGBT activists were particularly pioneering, given that no other country before Nepal had developed an identity-based legal recognition procedure for transgender people at the time.
In India in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in NALSA v. India that transgender people should be legally recognized according to their gender identity – including if that identity was a third category other than male and female.
Both the India and Nepal cases – as well as the new Dutch judgment – cite the Yogyakarta Principles, a 2006 codification of binding international human rights standards related to sexual orientation and gender identity. According to principle 3, “Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity, and freedom.”
Other countries in the region – namely Bangladesh and Pakistan – now legally recognize more than two genders in some way. But while legal proclamations there have been promising, implementation has been piecemeal.
The Dutch judgment is the latest affirmation that South Asia’s principled and tenacious activists, lawyers, and judges continue to influence the world. Governments in the region now have an opportunity to set a further example by ensuring these rulings are fully enforced and third gender legal recognition is available to everyone who seeks it.