LGBT rights in Nepal: the way forward

by Emma Lance

on January 13, 2017

Take your ID out of your pocket and look at it. What if you didn’t identify with the person it’s supposed to represent? How would that make you feel?

The majority of transgender people around the world go through the experience on a daily basis. While in many societies there is an increasing acceptance for each individual’s preferred gender presentation, the governments giving the option to legally identify as neither male nor female are few.

Nepal is one of them. The work of our local team with the reality show PAHUNCH adds to a growing awareness of LGBT rights in the country and to recent, momentous legislative change.

Until 2007, LGBT rights in Nepal were not a priority. However, at the end of Nepal’s conflict, the changes to the Constitution and the political involvement of transgender activists paved the way for new legislation. The government introduced laws to protect transgender individuals in the workplace. Occasions to celebrate LGBT culture multiplied. Transgender individuals obtained the opportunity to choose their gender marker on IDs, including a gender-neutral option, also known as third gender.

On government documents, the third gender is denoted as “other.” It gives individuals the opportunity to identify as neither male nor female. The third gender includes people who identify as a different gender from the sex they were assigned at birth or somewhere else along the gender spectrum, in ways that cannot be confined to traditional labels.

While legislation guarantees the protection of transgender individuals, the awareness of LGBT issues in Nepal is largely due to the work of activists and organizations. With the PAHUNCH project, we are contributing to these efforts.

The goal of PAHUNCH is to improve the access to justice for marginalized communities in Nepal, including LGBT people. As part of the project, we have developed a reality TV show designed to improve mutual trust between the Nepali police and citizens. Over the course of 13 episodes, the contestants received mentorship from police officers and solved fictional cases. PAHUNCH aired every weekend in prime time on Nepal TV, the largest broadcaster in the country.

Among the participants is Sophie Sunuwar, a transgender make-up artist and prominent LGBT activist. As a transgender person, Sophie used to fear the police. She went on the show because she felt it was time to bridge that gap. Her participation in PAHUNCH proved that members of the LGBT community can lead positive change, while also having a healthy relationship with the police. After joining the show, her wariness towards them has gone. Sophie’s testimony serves as an inspiration for thousands of LGBT people, who don’t have to be mistrustful of the police anymore.

There is still much to do to defend the rights of LGBT people in Nepal. Discrimination, prejudice, and violence still exist. But media such as PAHUNCH and activists like Sophie Sunuwar have significantly helped bridge the gap toward a more cohesive community. The action of Nepali lawmakers, activists, and culture makers sets an example for what next steps in other parts of the world could look like.

Visit the official page of PAHUNCH – the reality TV show.

Emma Lance is a former intern at Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, D.C.