Understanding the Right to Change Legal Gender: A Case Study of Trans Women in Sri Lanka

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Yutthaworakool, Saittawut
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Global Campus of Human Rights
In Sri Lanka, the lives of trans women have faced discrimination, stigmatisation, marginalisation and criminalisation. These legal, administrative and socio-cultural factors urged the state authorities to contribute to the policy on the right to change legal gender in 2016. In theory, this policy aimed to uphold the lives of transgender people in different aspects. However, trans women in Sri Lanka, in reality, have experienced challenges of the policy implementation. At the same time, these challenges impact the lives of trans women in Sri Lanka. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews with four Sri Lankan trans women, who have experienced the implementation process and in-depth interviews with a lawyer and government officers working on trans women’s rights, the research finds that although trans women are appreciative and happy with the policy, which upholds their human rights through the new identity, they continue to face difficulties during the application process. Because of the bureaucratic process, the policy is inaccessible and unaffordable. The policy is not a legal provision, and trans women are forced to follow the discretion of the administrative officers. Their birth certificate still indicates the previous gender because the state authorities refuse to issue a new document. The policy lacks standard procedures and protocols, which allows unequal treatment to take place during the service. They must follow the medical treatment, which is time-consuming and expensive before receiving the Gender Recognition Certificate. Last but not least, trans women do not have other alternatives besides male or female gender. With regards to these challenges, the research suggests that the country demedicalises transgenderism, while establishing standard guidelines and protocols for the procedures under the enacted legal provision. It also urges the state authorities of Sri Lanka to decriminalise all laws that discriminate against the LGBTIQ+ community, as well as to protect and promote their fundamental human rights. This research not only enables us to understand the right to change legal gender in Sri Lanka, but also contributes to the knowledge gaps of the gender and sexuality studies and LGBTIQ+ issues in Sri Lanka. It also suggests the further study on trans men in Sri Lanka. Keywords: right to change legal gender, trans women, Sri Lanka
Global Campus - Asia-Pacific.
APMA - Master’s Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Asia-Pacific, Mahidol University.
Second semester University: University of Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Mahidol University.
transgender, trans women, transsexualism, Sri Lanka, gender, gender identity