In 2015, the Nepalese government passed legislation to allow citizens to identify as a third gender on the national passport, following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in the country. Much like in Pakistan and India, Nepal is one of the South Asian countries that are allowing formal recognition for members of the LGBT+ community, thus showing signs of progression far beyond that of many western countries who are revered for their progressiveness. On the 10th of August, Nepal issued the first passport of this kind to Manoj Shahi, identifying as Monica, under the category of ‘O’ for Other. Nepal is the first country in Asia to present such an option on passports specifically, with the only other countries known for this being Australia and New Zealand.
In regards to the new gender identification on her passport, Shahi stated that “Today is an important day in my life and I hope the younger generation is encouraged by the move.” However, despite the formal recognition of Monica’s gender, many of the societal norms in Nepal remain unchanged in regards to this subject. As such, Shahi went on to say that “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. We made history today but our top leaders didn’t want to be a part of it.” Despite Shahi’s success in being identified as the ‘Other’
With that said, in spite of Shahi’s success in being identified with the ‘Other’ category, not all applicants have been so successful. The process is often made intentionally arduous for those seeking to apply for a passport under this gender category. For instance, Bhumika Shrestha, another LGBT+ activist, was sent from “office to office” when attempting to change the gender on her passport. She stated that “this is the 13th time I’ve been here, and the officials’ excuse for not changing my papers is different every time.”
Thus, despite the surface level indicators of social progression and open-mindedness, citizens whose gender falls into the ‘O’ category are likely to face a number of drawbacks in the process of actually using their passport. For example, a UN expert, following the introduction of the ‘X’ determinate for gender in Australia and New Zealand, stated that “measures that involve increased travel document security, such as stricter procedures for issuing, changing and verifying identity documents, risk unduly penalizing transgender persons whose personal appearance and data are subject to change.” As well, these individuals constantly run the risk of such passports not being recognized by foreign consulates.
Nonetheless, Nepal is undoubtedly a forerunner in recognizing rights for the LGBT+ community, however, this nation is also host to a number of homophobic sentiments in the social, as well as legal sphere. As the Nepali Times reports, The Law Ministry is “trying to enact punitive laws that re-criminalise LGBT relationships, completely overturning previous Supreme Court decisions.” Therefore, Nepal’s recognition of a third gender, while it is a sure sign of progression, brings to light the fact that equality cannot merely be symbolic, it must actively seek to improve the lives of minorities.