In a crucial test, Nepal’s government has agreed to issue a new citizenship certificate to Caitlin Panta, a nineteen-year-old who underwent sex reassignment surgery this past January (and was apparently the first Nepali citizen to do so). Although the process was fraught with bureaucracy, including an examination by a three-member panel to “confirm” Ms. Panta’s sex change, it remains an important milestone in the country’s reforms in the area of gender identity recognition.
This news comes just months after the Nepali government began issuing new citizenship documents to people identifying as third genders through an “other” sex category. This option is available to people who self-identify as neither male or female, or self-identify as a gender different from that which was assigned to them at birth.
These developments spring from a remarkably progressive 2007 decision by Nepal’s Supreme Court, Pant v. Nepal. In its ruling, which looked to the South African Bill of Rights as a model, the Court firmly directed the government to undertake a complete overhaul of the country’s laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. Accordingly, major changes have been rolling out over the past couple of years. Last year, the country’s census questionnaire offered the third gender category as an option for self-identification, reportedly a first for the world. Although this article points out the limitations in Nepal’s implementation of the 2007 court directive, the future of equality in the Himalayan nation is looking up.