June Analysis: Gender and Social Inclusion

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Timeline of key events:

DateEvents
June 5Discussion on amendment of citizenship act held at the Ministry of Home affairs
June 11Nepal Pride Parade 2022
June 15Minister Govinda Bandi spoke in the house of representatives to lower the age of marriage

Pride month

Nepal held its first Pride parade on June 29 2019 in celebration of diversity in gender and sexuality. The first legal recognition of the LGBTQI+ community was established by the interim constitution of Nepal, 2063 which guaranteed the rights of each individual right to freedom, equality and right against discrimination. The 2015 Constitution of Nepal has carried the same values protecting the rights of minorities. A landmark decision by the supreme court on the Sunil Babu Pant vs. GoN and others was a victory for LGBTQI+ rights establishment in Nepal. The verdict provided with recognition of nonbinary gender, eliminating any discriminatory laws against the LGBTQI+ community and forming a committee to study the possibility of same-sex marriage. In 2013, a category of other gender was introduced while obtaining citizenship and included on passports 2 years later. Yet, the discussion still persists on whether the laws are enough. Laxmi Ghalan who is the founder of mitni Nepal expressed that “LGBTQI+ people are reporting an elevated risk of domestic and family violence, increased social isolation and anxiety, and difficulties in accessing crucial sexual and reproductive health rights,” said Laxmi Ghalan, founding member of Mitini Nepal. The conservative perceptions, social stigma and stereotyping of the community have devalued people’s right to a dignified life and freedom of choice. Even though Nepal is said to be progressive on the matter, it has a long way to go until the LGBTQI+ community feels recognised and respected as citizens of the country.

Photo : AP/RSS

Controversial Citizenship amendment bill

Since August 2018, among the pending bills in the house, a bill to amend the citizenship act is one of them. The Supreme Court had ordered not to implement the Citizenship amendment bill stating it would have future implications. With the nearing of federal and provincial elections, the ruling coalition held a meeting over the pending bill with plans of tabling it in the house. It is a very sensitive issue as citizenship is the basis on which people receive education, acquire and sell properties, voting rights, and banking facilities. Many people are currently stateless in the country unable to exercise basic human rights. Nepal citizenship Act 2006 provides unsatisfactory and discriminatory provisions that requires amendment.The existing provision on foreign women married to Nepali men could attain naturalised citizenship, but the proposed bill has extended the time period to 7 years. This not only raises the issue of unequal provisions provided to men and women as foreign married to Nepali women have to wait 15 years to acquire the same, but this also has the possibility of impacting the relationship between Nepal and India due to the majority of foreigners marrying in the country are from India.

Undermining women’s and LGBTIQ+ individual’s autonomy

Even though the citizenship act has provided for the woman to provide her child citizenship through descent, yet if the father is a foreigner, the child shall receive naturalised citizenship. This is not applicable if the mother is a foreigner. Similarly, if a father is not present and a child has to receive citizenship through his/her mother, the mother has to declare the father ‘unknown’. This completely undermines women’s rights and their autonomy. The fact that a woman’s existence is still connected to a man exerts government favouring patriarchal norms and values through legal provisions and is contradictory and discriminatory compromising our constitution.

Moreover, the amendment bill has further proposed for the LGBTQI+ community to acquire citizenship as ‘other’, if the medical evidence of sex change is provided. Such provision is only in favour of the people who are able to afford sex-change surgery, and even if one could it is a very risky procedure for one to be forced to go through. The decision to want to go through surgery should be on the individual and not imposed by the state for recognition. Recognition of one’s gender identity should be provided with no conditions. The case of Ruksana Kapali, biologically born as a boy but identifies her as a girl, sheds light on limitations of freedom on right to dignified life, choice of identity and right to education. The term other is not inclusive of LGBTQI+ community. The people from the community have shown discontent on the matter as people identifying themselves as non-binary would like to be referred to as ‘X’, transgender as ‘T’, and some intersex and transgender would like to identify themselves as male or female. The forceful nature of the citizenship bill to identify all as others deprives them of their fundamental rights. Existing Act and the amendment bill both are viewed as rather patriarchal and regressive. The citizenship act amendment bill needs rigorous study and discussion before being passed in the parliament. Accepting the bill as it would promote inequality, labelling a community and especially unconstitutional.

Legal age for Marriage conundrum

Along with the discussion of removing limitation in filing for rape cases, Minister Govinda Bandi, Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, have raised concerns over the marrying age of man and woman being 21 and 20 respectively. He spoke in a meeting held among the house of representatives saying the allocated age has rather increased penalising individuals for child marriage. He argued that it is not standard to have to wait until 20 to get married. The provided legal age for marriage gives women no power to decide over the will to marry till the age of 20, which according to case studies have rather been used as parental control to children eloping through filing cases against the man for child marriage and rape. The global standard for marriage age is 18 years old, and Nepal has legal voting and consent rights at the age of 18, which would make sense to lower the legal age as well to 18. Nevertheless, in a developing country like Nepal where women’s health rights, early marriage and dropout rate are still a great matter of concern, having the legal age for marriage higher would allow for better protection of them.,  A study conducted by Human Rights Watch has linked early marriages to poverty and majority of people practising early marriages are from the marginalised and poor communities. Hence, it would be best if the government had concerns on eradicating poverty, uplifting marginalised communities and protecting women rights over decreasing the legal age for marriage. This will only decrease the statistics for child marriage and rape cases, but will not solve the core problem existing in the society as women health reproductive health, forcible marriages, women dropouts in education, and poverty eradication.

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