The Third Gender: Inter-sexuality still a taboo around the world (Rava Special Report)


Not being a woman or a man is a fundamental problem for intersex people.

It is necessary to define: intersexuality is a biological variation. And the importance of its recognition has nothing to do with having only a few hundred or tens of thousands of cases per year.

The stories of the people affected show that intersexuality must be evaluated differently from transsexuality, which in simple words: it is about men who were born in women’s bodies, and women into men’s bodies.

It is not a novelty that the rigid division into only two genres does not correspond to reality. However, laws in most countries of the world still ignore that some intersex children are subjected to forced operations. But some societies are making progress in the recognition of intersexuality. There are very few nations who have accepted and acknowledged transgenders as a third gender in society and Pakistan is one of them.


In national identity documents, Pakistanis can choose a “third gender”, since 2009.

In 2009, the Pakistan Supreme Court delivered a seminal ruling, recognizing the dignity of transgenders and declaring them the third gender under the equal protection clause of the Pakistan constitution. Article 25 states that “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.” The Supreme Court noted that transgender persons have been neglected “on account of gender disorder in their bodies.” They have been denied the inheritance rights as they were neither sons nor daughters who inherit under Islamic law. Sometimes, families disinherit transgender children. To remedy discrimination against transgenders, the Court ordered provincial and federal governments to protect transgenders’ gender identification, right to inherit property, right to vote, right to education, and right to employment.

The Qur’an is clear on genetic determinations by pointing out that Allah is the:

“One who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases.” (Qur’an 3:6).

All shapes, that is, all physical traits including sexual characteristics and inclinations of a human being, come with the pleasure and permission of Allah.” Every child — male, female, or transgender—has the equal blessings of God and there is no justification for parents, courts, or governments to engage in gender-based ill-treatment.

Different religious scholars have spoken out about the injustices faced by the transgender community, especially those that go against the foundation of Islam. Earlier this year, at least 50 clerics of the Tanzeem Ittehad-e-Ummat Pakistan passed a fatwa (religious decree) that deems marriages of transgender people legal as per the Shariah law. The fatwa states,

“A transman can marry a transwoman and vice versa, but intersex person – people born with physical sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies – cannot marry at all according to Islam.”


In Australia, the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that, in addition to women and men, there is a “neutral” gender that can be legally registered with the authorities. The gender is called “non-specific”, as it is undefined.

New Zealand

New Zealand is a pioneer. There it is possible to register your sex on the birth certificate as “indeterminate / intersexual / non-specific”. According to the New Zealand Ministry of the Interior: “The sex of a child can be specified as undefined if it cannot be determined whether the child is male or female.”


In 2007, the Supreme Court of Nepal formally introduced a third gender. Since 2015, Nepalese have been able to specify a third gender in their identification documents.



The Bengali government passed a law in 2013 that introduces the “hijra” category in passports and other identification cards. Hijra is a term for transsexual or intersex people in South Asia. With this recognition, the authorities have wanted to reduce the discrimination in education and medical assistance of the people affected. It is estimated that some 10,000 people in Bangladesh benefit from it.


Also in India, the “hirja” have a long history of discrimination and persecution. In 2009 they were able to choose, for the first time, in their registries next to “masculine” and “feminine”, the option “other”.

Since 2014 there is officially a third gender group in India. This makes it the fourth country in South Asia, after Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh to recognize another gender besides the female and male.


Since 2017, the Northwest Territories of the country issue birth certificates with an “X” instead of “feminine” or “masculine”. In passports, the “X” can be entered throughout Canada.

United States of America

New York recently delivered the first US intersex birth certificate to Sara Kelly Keenan, 55. However, the third gender is not universally recognized. California is one of the most advanced federal states in terms of intersexuality. In the future, driver’s licenses with intersexual “X” will be issued.


In comparison with the European Union, the Maltese society is progressive, in this aspect: since 2015, the definition of a newborn’s gender can be postponed until its identity is fully clarified. This, thanks to the Law of identity and expression of gender and sex “.

Operating a baby or a child to assign a sex, without knowing their identity as a teenager or adult, is penalized in Malta.


In Kenya there was a sentence in 2014 that forced the authorities to issue a civil registry to a five-year-old child, recognizing his intersex status. A verdict considered a first step towards the recognition of intersex people in Africa.

About author
Profile photo of Noreen Zafar

Noreen Zafar

Noreen is the lead of Rava's Editorial Team and has been associated with the world of journalism since 2012. She is quirky with an awkward sense of humour and an advocate for common sense. Her skill is to use sarcasm to survive on daily basis.

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