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Netherlands Sees No Role for Gender Marker on ID Documents

Move Raises Questions of When Gender Markers Are Necessary

The Dutch flag flies at the parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, March 16, 2017. © 2017 Daniel Reinhardt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

The Dutch government will no longer include gender markers on national identification documents (IDs) in the next five years, a move that balances the potential harms – such as harassment, discrimination, and violence – that requiring people to declare gender on documents poses against whether there is any justification for publishing a person’s legal gender.

Activists around the world have long pushed for simpler and more transparent procedures to allow transgender people to change the “female” or “male” gender marker on their documents. Some – now including in the Netherlands – have called for removing gender markers from IDs altogether. The move to remove gender markers is in part based on recognition that they do not accommodate non-binary people and that even rights-respecting legal gender recognition procedures impose burdens on trans people to proactively change their gender markers.

International legal thinking is evolving.

In 2006, global experts drafted the Yogyakarta Principles, a codification of international human rights standards related to sexual orientation and gender identity. A decade later, they updated their call for barrier-free legal recognition of gender to recommend that states “end the registration of the sex and gender of the person in identity documents such as birth certificates, identification cards, passports, and driver licenses, and as part of their legal personality.”

The United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity said in 2018 that “Legal systems must, on an ongoing basis, carefully review the reasoning behind the gathering and exhibition of certain data” expressing “significant doubts as to the real need for the pervasive exhibition of gender markers in official and non-official documentation.”

There is precedent for removing information from IDs, as not relevant to the purpose of the document. Many countries have removed personal characteristics such as race, religion, or marital status. The primary purpose of an identity document is to ensure that the person presenting the ID is who they say they are. Race or gender markers do not create additional clarity.

The Netherlands’ decision puts into sharp focus the question whether gender markers on ID documents are redundant and potentially harmful. For those in the Netherlands at least, when implemented, the move means citizens will no longer be required to carry documents displaying unnecessary information that for some could invite harm.

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