Social and cultural

The third gender

Hijra

Germany, India, Pakistan, the state of California, Denmark, Argentina, Australia, and many others have adopted legislation allowing people to identify themselves to an alternative gender.


In recent years, more and more countries have recognized the existence of a third gender by allowing people who would rather do so to check a box called “different”, “other” or “neutral” than check a “male” or “female” box when the time comes to specify their gender. Germany, India, Pakistan, the state of California, Denmark, Argentina, Australia, and many others have adopted legislation allowing people to identify themselves to an alternative gender .

In Canada, Statistics Canada initiated consultations in 2017 to review how the census questionnaire could collect information on the sex and gender of respondents. The 2021 edition of the Census should, therefore, include two questions to distinguish the gender assigned at birth from gender identity and do so in a non-binary way. It shall also recognize the fact that a person’s gender identity can change over time.

Even though certain legislations have looked into the matter of third gender and transidentity for at most ten years, the social recognition of people belonging to this group has existed since the dawn of time.

Near the city of Thebes, Egypt (where the existing city of Luxor is located), potteries dating from the era of the Middle Kingdom was found. These potteries bore reports of three sexes: male, female, and a third sex, which many have translated as eunuch, although few sources suggest that these eunuchs were actually castrated . This period took place from around 2060 to 1770 BCE.

In Indian culture, references to a third sex are found in ancient texts of the three spiritual traditions of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. It is estimated that there are approximately 5 million hijras in India today. At that time, the hijras were the guardians of the harems. Considered to be neither men nor women, hijras today represent a community of transvestites, eunuchs, transsexuals, and hermaphrodites. They are the third sex. Even if their existence is proved to be a thousand years old, the fact remains that their daily lives is complex. Over time, many have sunk into begging and prostitution.

Since 2014, the Supreme Court of India has given hijras the right to legally identify themselves as a third gender, which now allows them to benefit from social assistance and jobs reserved for the disadvantaged . That being said, a transgender woman who wishes to identify herself as a woman under the law would, at the same time, be deprived of the social rights for transgender people. Note that homosexuality was decriminalized there in 2018 , four years after the legal recognition of a third gender.

Photo credit: Michael Garten

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