Third Gender Movement: India and Beyond

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow


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The third gender movement, at its core, is about recognizing and securing rights for individuals who do not identify strictly as male or female. Historically, many cultures have acknowledged the presence of more than two genders. The third gender movement seeks to revive, recognize, and champion the rights of these individuals in contemporary societies.


  1. Historical Roots:
    • India has a long history of recognizing the third gender, especially in the form of the Hijra community, which has existed for centuries. Hijras have held both revered and ostracized positions in society over time.
  2. Modern Movement:
    • Post-independence, the Hijra and wider transgender community faced significant marginalization.
    • The past few decades have seen significant grassroots activism. The community rallied for recognition, leading to legal victories like the landmark NALSA judgment in 2014 by the Supreme Court, which recognized the third gender and affirmed their fundamental rights.
  3. Continued Challenges:
    • While legal recognitions exist, societal acceptance and implementation of rights remain ongoing challenges.

Global Overview:

  1. Nepal:
    • A leader in the third gender movement, Nepal recognized the rights of transgender individuals in 2007. By 2011, they issued citizenship cards with a third gender category.
  2. Pakistan:
    • Pakistan recognized the rights of “eunuchs” (a term historically used for the Hijra community) in 2009, allowing them to obtain national identification cards as ‘third gender’.
  3. Bangladesh:
    • Following a similar trajectory as its South Asian neighbors, Bangladesh granted the Hijra community third gender status in 2013.
  4. Australia:
    • Since 2013, Australia has allowed the use of ‘X’ as a gender marker in passports, for those who don’t identify as male or female.
  5. Germany:
    • In 2018, Germany became the first European country to recognize a third gender officially. Citizens can choose “diverse” as an option on birth certificates and other legal documents.
  6. New Zealand:
    • New Zealand offers ‘X’ as a gender marker on passports, and in 2018 they proposed a broader approach to self-identification on birth certificates.
  7. United States:
    • The USA has a more fragmented approach due to its federal system. While there’s no nationwide recognition of a third gender, states like California, Oregon, and Washington allow residents to choose a gender-neutral option on their birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
  8. United Nations:
    • The Yogyakarta Principles, adopted in 2006, is a set of principles on the application of international human rights law concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.

Challenges and Future Prospects:

Across the globe, third gender recognition often comes after persistent activism and advocacy from the transgender and larger LGBTQ+ communities. Even in nations that have legally recognized a third gender, challenges remain:

  • Societal acceptance and understanding often lag behind legal changes.
  • Transgender and third-gender individuals often face barriers in accessing healthcare, employment, and education.
  • In some regions, they are still vulnerable to violence and discrimination.

The movement’s future is bound to the broader struggle for LGBTQ+ rights. With increasing global connectivity and the sharing of narratives, the third gender movement, backed by legal and social advancements, continues to push the boundaries of understanding and acceptance.