East leads West in a Question of Gender

By Sue van Meeteren, June 2018

It seems like a simple question:

“Which of the following terms do you feel best describes your gender?”

In a recent survey conducted in Australia by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) there were 33 possible responses to this question. Whilst it is unlikely that this set of responses will be adopted by our industry as a whole, it does beg the question about whether our old stalwart of

Are you..?

needs to be reconsidered. Around the World there is a slow but steady increase in recognition of a 3rd gender option, and countries in Asia and Oceania are taking the lead. In Australia, a 3rd gender of “X” has been included as an option in passports since 2011 and this has now been extended to all federal documents, including the 2016 National Census which included a gender option of “other”. In the last 20 years, a gender perspective has been incorporated into International Human Rights Laws and gender equality has been restated in many UN resolutions.  More recently there has been movement to broaden the focus from binary gender to gender identity.  The United Nations Human Rights Council, adopted a resolution in 2016, on “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity” which has been celebrated as a major step in recognising and respecting gender diverse people. In 2007, the Yogyakarta Principles were developed by a group of human rights experts to provide guidance on how international human rights law should be interpreted and applied in relation to sexual orientation and gender identification. The Yogyakarta Principle are not legally binding –  yet in some countries they have been influential in encouraging Governments to reconsider policies of gender identity.  Yogyakarta Principle 3 outlines the right to recognition in law for all people regardless of sexual or gender identity and this has encouraged increased debate and in some cases changes in policy in the way gender diverse people are formally and legally recognised. Around the World, there are many cultures where a third gender has always been recognised.  One of the first countries to legally recognised a third gender was Nepal in 2007. The most well known 3rd gender culture is probably the Hirja of India – estimated to be a group of around 5-6 million people.  The Hirja community is a collective description used for transsexuals, transvestites, cross-dressers, eunuchs and transgender people see themselves as neither men nor women.  In English they are often called eunuchs. Hijra social movements have campaigned for recognition as a third sex, and in 2005, Indian passport application forms were updated to include three gender options: M, F, and E (for male, female, and eunuch).  In November 2009, India also agreed to include “others” as a 3rd category, distinct from males and females, in voting rolls and voter identity cards. In  2014, the Supreme Court of India ruled that a third gender that is neither male nor female should be entitled to full recognition in education and jobs, stating “Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue.” In Bangladesh a third gender has been legally recognised since 2013 and in 2016 the Hijra community in Bangladesh succeeded in persuading authorities to include “other” as an option in passport applications. In Pakistan, the Hirja community are included in a group known as khwaja sara, referred to in English as  “third gender” and which includes individuals (either male or female, neither, and/or both) that identify themselves as, transsexual, transgender person,  transvestite, and eunuchs.   In 2009,  the Chief Justice of Pakistan, ordered that the National Database and Registration Authority should issue national identity cards to members of the community (thought to number between 80,000 and 300,000) showing their gender as distinct from male or female. Countries in Europe and North America have been slower to respond.  In November 2013, Germany became the first European country to allow a third ender designation on birth certificates, and last year the province of Ontario in Canada introduced a 3rd gender option of X on driving licences and no longer records gender on health cards. The UK and the US have been slow to embrace the change. In the UK the title “Mx.”, is widely accepted by government organisations and businesses as an alternative for non-binary people but an Early Day Motion in 2016, calling for X to be introduced as a 3rd gender option in passports failed when the petition failed to achieve 10,000 signatures. Last month a bill was passed by the California State Senate that would create a third, non-binary gender marker on California birth certificates, drivers’ licences, and identity cards.   Where does that leave us as researchers?  Legislative and social change has prompted us to adapt our standard research practices in the past and there are certainly indications that some countries are moving on gender. In February 2016, the Australian ­Bureau of Statistics issued a “stand­ard for sex and gender variables” which listed an “other” category, and in 2015, Statistics New Zealand introduced a new gender identity classification standard for statistical purposes. The classification has three categories: male, female, and gender diverse. Change in our industry has also historically been driven by our inherent desire to improve our understanding of the motivations and needs of individuals and cultures around the world. Gender is a fundamental part of a person’s identity; colouring the way people feel about themselves and the way they interact with the world.  Understanding the impact of binary gender has always been a key part in our research analysis.  Are we ready to extend this to include a broader definition of gender? At Jigsaw we recently asked some of our clients their opinions about changing the standard gender question to:

Which of the following best describes your gender?
Other/prefer not to say  

  The general response was “I don’t think we’re ready for that yet”.  But in some markets we should be already adding this code to better reflect the cultures we’re researching.  And perhaps in time this question will become the norm in every country.  

2018 Update:

UK: June – High Court rejects challenge that passports should have an X category and are “inherently discriminatory” Canada: now offers gender neutral travel documents.  World first – in 2017 a baby born in Canada was issued a health card without a gender marker Australia, Denmark, Germany Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, India and Nepal all offer a hrid category in passports   *They ze zir – as a way of describing 3rd gender in Canada

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