In a moved hailed as a landmark in gender rights, Nepal has issued its first passport with identification as neither male or female but “other” to an activist who has long fought for recognition of her self-identified gender.
“This recognition in the passport is the result of a long struggle and today we are proud that our country has taken this step,” president of the LGBT group Blue Diamond Society, Pinky Gurung, told AFP.
The passport, issued to LGBT activist Monica Shahi, is the first one in Nepal to list “O” for other in place of “F” for female or “M” for male in what is being called a “third category” for those who self-identify outside the male-female gender binary.
37-year-old Monica Shahi becomes the 1st transgender in Nepal to get a passport with category 'Others'. Pic Gopen Rai pic.twitter.com/TVnqmCcmPX— Nepali Times (@nepalitimes) August 10, 2015
“This is such an important and significant day. It feels great. But I am also hurt that neither the prime minister nor the foreign minister agreed to hand me the passport,” said Shahi, the proud holder of the groundbreaking new passport. “We made history today but our top leaders didn't want to be a part of it.”
LGBT activists in Nepal hope the move will be an example for other nations to follow. They have urged other countries to acknowledge other gender categories to ensure transgender or gender non-conforming passport holders don't encounter challenges or discrimination when they travel.
The move follows a 2007 Supreme Court decision in Nepal that ruled that individuals should be empowered and allowed to identify based on their gender “self-feeling”, beyond the limitations of a male-female binary. The ruling legally recognized the gender category of “other,” which activists have since successfully pressured officials to implement in citizenship documents, public washrooms, and the federal census.
Shahi's “O” gender-identified passport is the latest document in the long struggle for gender rights.
Neighboring Bangladesh and India also allow gender self-identification on travel documents with a category other than male and female, as do Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, and Malta.
While Nepal leads the region in gender rights, transgender people still face discrimination and bureaucratic challenges in achieving legal recognition of their gender identity.
Despite this, activists have welcomed the move as a positive step.
“I cannot describe my happiness today. My country has recognized and respected my identity,” said Shahi. “My struggle was not just for myself, but for future generations. Now everyone like me can get this service.”