âA homosexual friend of mine who is the head of the family was unable to register on the basis of his gender identity in the main census questionnaire. The census aggregates the head of the household only as male or female, âexplains Sarita KC, executive director of Mitini Nepal, an LGBTI organization.
“They did not have a box to identify themselves based on their gender or gender identity in the main questionnaire.”
Nepal has been widely praised by media and international community for including the 2021 census by adding an âotherâ option beyond both sexes (male and female) to count the queer population.
However, this option of âothersâ was limited to a form – which has 25 questions – used for the first phase of the census which collected data for the list of houses and households.
The second form – with 55 questions – used for the second phase of the census does not have the âotherâ option.
While the category of “others” itself was seen as discriminatory by the queer population of Nepal, as it deprived them of their right to self-determination of their gender identity and sexual orientation, the exclusion of “others” in the main census questionnaire is a heavy compromise that queer activists have had to contend with due to the lack of resources and international acceptance of the national census.
âWe wanted to include the gender breakdown, although limited to ‘others’, even in the main questionnaire, but due to various constraints we had to make compromises. We had to take what little we could get, âsays Pinki Gurung, president of the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBTI organization.
The 2021 census consists of three separate questionnaires: the list of houses and households, the main questionnaire and the community questionnaire.
The first phase of the census called the List of Houses and Households took place from September 15 to October 4.
The second phase of the census began on November 11 and is expected to end on November 25.
âThe census takes place in two phases: phase I and phase II,â explains Hem Raj Regmi, deputy director general of the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). “We had included the ‘other’ option in the form used in the first phase, but it is not included in the form II to be used in the second phase.”
Various factors were taken into consideration after consulting with key stakeholders, organizations working for gay rights, such as the Blue Diamond Society, Mitini Nepal and Inclusive Forum Nepal, when making such decisions, Regmi said.
International standards, budget issues, lack of extensive knowledge and vocabulary, and Nepal’s social acceptance of the queer community played a crucial role in this exclusion, according to stakeholders.
âAfter a series of meetings with various organizations, we have decided not to include the gender category ‘other’ in Form II. First, people who don’t identify with the masculine and feminine gender binary are reluctant to speak openly about their gender identity, âsays Regmi.
In the 2011 census, only 1,500 people identified themselves in the âthird sexâ category. This number, queer activists say, does not reflect the reality on the ground.
The collection of data on queer people is affected by the acceptance of the queer community in Nepalese society.
“Since many people were not comfortable disclosing their gender identity, and the gender discourse is still evolving and many people in Nepal ignore or ignore it, this affects the collection. data for the queer population, âsays Sharu Joshi Shrestha, a gender activist who has led several United Nations programs.
The CBS also stresses that global acceptance and validation of the national census is dependent on meeting international standards for data collection.
The Manual for the management and organization of national statistical systems published by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) identifies gender as uniquely male and female. It explicitly identifies the need to categorize gender wherever possible to achieve Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, without addressing the queer community, throughout the manual.
âHomosexual populations are considered hard to reach populations. And by international standards, manuals provided by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), we face constraints when collecting data on their population during the census, in particular, âRegmi said.
The 2020 United States Census collected data only on same sex couples– the number of same-sex couples raising children, the geography of the place of residence of same-sex couples, and the race and ethnicity of people in same-sex couples – and not on their gender identity and their sexual orientation.
The 2021 England and Wales census collected voluntary information on the gender identities and sexual orientation of people aged 16 and over.
The 2023 New Zealand census will collect data on gender, sex, variations in sex characteristics and gender identity.
In addition, budget and resource constraints were other reasons CBS cited for such exclusion, Gurung said.
Stakeholders also said they faced various complications when designing the questionnaires. âWhile it is important to include ‘others’ in the second form, and not just the first, we have encountered various complications. For example, marriage between same-sex or same-sex couples has not yet been legally recognized, and we do not have the vocabulary to identify their marriage, nor data on pregnancy or divorce, âsays Shrestha.
Shrestha has participated in three national censuses and actively participates in the 2021 national census.
However, gay activists strongly share that they wanted to include – at least âothersâ – as a gender category in the main questionnaire as well. But, they argue that the inability to identify with their gender identity and sexual orientation leads to a loss of their true representation.
âNot being able to identify with the gender spectrum in the national census makes them feel unrepresented. And not having this complete data – based on household heads, marriages, property, income – leaves us behind to advance representation policies at local and national levels, âGurung shares.
KC echoes Gurung’s concerns.
âI, as a bisexual woman, want to identify with myself, not only as a woman, but based on my sexual orientation. However, I am not in a position to do so, âKC told the Post over the phone.
KC believes that her identity as a female is different from that of a bisexual female, and that having data based on their gender identity and sexual orientation could lead to reservations based on our intersectional identities. âWith complete datasets, we can lobby for representation in elections at the local level, and even during the formation of ministries. Policies and programs can be designed with these intersectionalities in mind.
Queer activists and stakeholders have had to compromise with their minimum representation via the list of houses and households due to various factors such as budget and resource constraints, lack of guidelines for national data collection on queer population in international textbooks, the lack of vocabulary to deal with relations between homosexuals, and the apprehensions of Nepalese society to accept queer individuals.
Nonetheless, activists in particular have always questioned the accuracy of Nepal’s decennial data, which the government and non-governmental organizations rely on to distribute economic, social and political resources.
âWhile this data, especially on the queer population collected through Form I, is unlikely to be entirely accurate, it will at least provide us with a baseline to start with,â says Shrestha.
Gay activists, however, commend CBS for personally inviting them and providing them with a space to train master trainers on gender-sensitive approaches to census data collection, adhering to the Gender Guidelines and social inclusion.
âWe were also included in various levels of training. CBS invited us and gave us the space to conduct our own workshops and trainings. They invited us to submit manuals and brochures to also be included in the training material, âsaid KC, who has been defending gay rights for seven years now.
âGay-led organizations have provided a lot of post-training material to sensitize master trainers – who in turn train enumerators, supervisors and interviewers – on gender and sexuality issues. Members of the queer community themselves were present during the training, âsays Shrestha, who is also a board member of the Nepal Policy Institute, an international public policy think tank.
CBS qualified 8,500 census supervisors in April to complete the list of houses and households. In early November, 39,000 enumerators across the country were trained for the second phase of the census.
“Despite all the equipment and training, the level at which master trainers, census supervisors and enumerators grasped these complex nuances of gender and sexual orientation is not yet something we can determine,” explains Shrestha.
CBS proposed a different focus survey for the queer community in Nepal addressing the wide range of gender identities and sexual orientation after the national census. However, the dates of the investigation have not yet been released.
While activists recognize that the survey will not cover grounds as broad as the national census, they hope the gender distribution in the survey will provide them with reliable data to defend their issues in the future.
“Maybe by the next census we will have a full breakdown of sexual and gender minorities, not only in the household list but also in the main questionnaire, the way disability has been broken down in this census. “, explains KC.