In the context of Nepal, when we talk about LGBTQI+ rights, the major emphasis is given to the third gender movement – which is ambiguous and often not inclusive of the diverse LGBTQI+ community of Nepal. It is said that the LGBTI rights movement began in Nepal in 2001, the intersex rights movement in Nepal began only in 2016. The claimed LGBTI movement of Nepal was particularly focused on issues of the third gender, gay and lesbian people. In April 2007, LGBT organizations filed a writ petition based on the Interim Constitution of Nepal seeking recognition of the third gender, a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and reparations by the State to victims of State violence and discrimination. There were certain notes about intersex individuals mentioned in the writ petition. However, no specific verdict regarding intersex people was made. The Supreme court verdict has grouped all LGBTIQ+ individuals as gender and sexual minorities. This terminology is also reflected in the constitution of Nepal.
According to the UN fact sheet, Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads, and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all. Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics, and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual, and may identify as female, male, both, or neither.
The intersex movement formally started organizing the first-ever national-level meeting on issues and challenges faced by intersex people in Nepal was held on February 8 & 9 in 2016. This meeting creates a platform for intersex people to share their experiences and connect. The meeting was hosted by Senior Intersex Activist and supported by the UNDP Bangkok office. It brought together 13 intersex people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations from across Nepal as well as representatives from the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNICEF, as well as legal experts. Esan Regmi, an intersex activist facilitated sessions during this meeting. The stories collected from 9 out of 13 participants during the meeting were later published as a storybook (Stories of Intersex in Nepal)- which was the first publication about intersex people in Nepal.
After this meeting intersex issues were raised at the UN level from Nepal. A shadow report was submitted on intersex issues for the seventy-second session of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC Committee made concluding observations on intersex issues to Nepal Government but the Nepal government fails to implement it.
On August 6 and 7 in 2017, a second national intersex meeting was organized, 29 intersex individuals and parents of intersex children participated and shared their experiences and talked about challenges faced by intersex people and their parents. In 2018 a shadow report on intersex issues was submitted to the CEDAW committee, the committee made a concluding observation on intersex issues.
The LGBTI movement and the activism followed lacked intersex representation at the decision-making level and tragically were overlapped with “third gender identity often led a sense of tokenism towards the Intersex persons and community in Nepal. Moreover, the lack of proper representation among the LGBTQI+ community and activism created a lack of access to health services, education, and employment opportunities for intersex persons living in Nepal. Hence, it is very important to bring intersex people’s narratives and stories into the movement. In 2017, Campaign for Change was established to fill this gap and to truly present the intersex narrative in the mainstream Queer Rights movement which would properly address the socio-legal needs of intersex persons.
In 2016 during 1st meeting, a national-level meeting was promised to hold on every year because for intersex people it is the only way to meet other intersex people and share and listen to each other experiences. Due to a lack of funding and resource, a national meeting wasn’t held in 2018.
In 2019, on 14 to 16 November 3rd national meeting was organized by Campaign for Change (CfC), which was supported by COC Netherlands through Intersex Asia. In this meeting, 15 participants participated from different parts of Nepal participated and they also published a national statement on intersex rights. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is being difficult to organize another national-level meeting of Intersex People. CfC is planning to organize the next national-level meeting soon in 2022. It also aims to connect with more intersex people out there and the medical profession advocates Intersex health through a human rights perspective.
Nepal is always considered as a country that has some of South Asia’s most progressive laws on gender and sexual minorities but the reality is different. Nepal fails to protect intersex people’s rights to education, employment, good health care, and many more. CRC explicitly criticized harmful practices on intersex children in Nepal and issued multiple recommendations, addressing inter alia “high levels of stigma and discrimination faced by intersex children” and “medically unnecessary surgeries and other procedures on intersex children and the lack of redress and compensation in such cases” (CRC/C/NPL/CO/3-5, paras 38, 41-42). Nonetheless, to this day Nepal fails to act but instead continues to feign ignorance of these serious human rights violations. Intersex Children’s mental health issues aren’t still discussed and our medical institution hasn’t shown any concern to address the needs of intersex children. For intersex children from less affluent families, lack of access to needed health care can be a serious problem, often compounding bullying, ostracism, stigmatization, discrimination, and abuse.
The Intersex movement had started and continues to bring all the change needed with time. There are still many more steps and support required from the government, civil society organizations, education & health system, and society to uplift intersex people’s life in Nepal. Awareness is the basic key to making the intersex movement successful.
We can take the following actions to respond to the intersex issues in Nepal:
- Demand our government to adapt CRC and CEDAW recommendations in our legislation.
- Prohibit medically unnecessary surgery and procedures on the sex characteristics of intersex children without informed consent
- Ensure that medical professionals receive training on the health care needs and human rights of intersex people
- Ensure the provision of counselling and support to intersex people and their families
- Enshrine prohibition of discrimination against intersex people in specific laws, including in relation to education, health care, employment, sports and access to public services
- Include specific employment reservations and scholarship opportunities for intersex people in Nepal as afforded to other marginalized and discriminated groups
- Provide intersex people with the opportunity to marry according to their gender identity and sexual orientation
- Support and implement awareness-raising activities on intersex issues throughout Nepal, including in rural areas and in schools
- Issue guidelines on inheritance for intersex people and their families
- Provide the means for intersex people to change their name and gender marker in all documentation if necessary
- Implement research and data collection activities on intersex issues in Nepal