Nepal takes historic step to protect LGBTI people in new constitution

On 20 September, Nepal took a historic step by adopting a new constitution, which protects lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex  (LGBTI) people from discrimination, violence, and abuse.  The country is the first in Asia and  joins only a handful of other countries to include equal rights protections for LGBTI people in its national constitution. UNAIDS spoke to Sanjay Sharma,  a prominent LGBTI rights activist working with the Blue Diamond Society in Nepal about the new constitution.

UNAIDS: What is the significance of this new constitution?

Sanjay: The constitution secures many fundamental rights for the LGBTI community. I am so happy. It is a new era for us and we have finally gotten close to what we have been working towards for so many years. We are set to have a legal identity, just as we are recognised as “O” for Others in our passports. There are now rights protecting us in education, healthcare, law enforcement and others. It is a landmark achievement.

Back in 2001, when we started the Blue Diamond Society, we were arrested while distributing condoms. They charged us with sex work and public offence. We were released 13 days later. Things have been changing since then. Media support and government research played a big part.

UNAIDS: What are the challenges that the LGBTI community faced in Nepal before this constitution?

Sanjay: We struggled with many things. We were seen as unnatural and we had little support. Many people were not coming out because of family and societal pressures. We were lacking in education because of discrimination from our teachers and even our friends. We were refused jobs as we were seen as people who would ruin the prestige of wherever we worked. No LGBTI person is known to hold a government job to date. Despite our skills and qualifications we were left out. People like me have not been able to pursue higher education because of this discrimination. This has led to a lot of mental and emotional issues and sometimes even poverty

UNAIDS: Do you think this will this change?

Sanjay: Our rights are secured in the new constitution and on that basis we can now advocate and lobby for more rights with policy makers. We can ask the government to change laws and policies, so that they do not discriminate against our people. We hope to see changes in education, healthcare, jobs etc.

UNAIDS: How does the constitution protect the rights of LGBTI people in Nepal?

Sanjay: Two particular articles do this. First there is Article 12 which ensures the right to have a citizen ID according to one’s own gender identity. Second is Article 18 which involves the Rights to equality. It states that there should be no discrimination based on gender and that children will have equal rights to parental property regardless of their gender.

Another article that passed is Article 42 on social Justice. It ensures that gender and sexual minorities will have the right to participate in state mechanisms and public services based on the  ‘principle of inclusion’.

UNAIDS: While this is a momentous step, do you feel more needs to be done to protect LGBTI rights?’

Sanjay: This is the beginning. We need to continue to lobby for the full implementation of the constitution. Now that it is put in place, we need to ensure it is put into practice. We need to make sure that there is no more discrimination.

We need to coordinate with the LGBTI community and make our voices stronger. In a way the constitution secures our rights but it doesn’t end there. We need to ensure that we are included, free to marry who we want and have all the basic human rights. We should be treated as ordinary citizens.

UNAIDS: What do you think the impact of this constitution will be on the rest of Asia?

Sanjay: Nepal is a role model. Different countries can launch their own policies based on Nepal. They can learn from this and provide greater gender equality rights. This is a progressive step and I hope to see other countries in Asia follow.

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