This community should be treated as any other human being.
Nepal's minister for information and communication has said the government is ready to amend discriminatory legal provisions against sexual minorities.
Speaking on Wednesday (4 February) at the first day of a three-day South Asian transgender and hijra consultation in Kathmandu, Minendra Rijal said the government had started the process by issuing passports with a third gender.
'This community should be treated as any other human being,' he said, adding that his party, the Nepali Congress, had mentioned equal rights for sexual minorities in its manifesto.
However, Rijal said equality could not be achieved through legal advancement and policies only, but also required changes in society's attitudes and behavior.
'I urge the community to stand up and take a lead,' he said.
'As a minister, I will prepare myself to be a leader who will lead in such a way that encourages everyone to be more sensitive towards the issues of rights and health for the transgender and hijra community – with the hope of change resulting that will be considered revolutionary in retrospect.'
In South Asia, transgender people often find themselves pushed to the social, legal and economic margins of society thanks to pervasive stigma, discrimination, prejudice, harassment and abuse. In many places they live in fear of transphobic violence.
However, in the recent years Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have recognized third gender citizens.
'This is a good start. But we also need equal opportunities in education, employment and easy access to health services,' said Manisha Dhakal, deputy director of the Blue Diamond Society.
'Programs for us should not be restricted to distributing condoms, lubricants and HIV/STI related services – creating an enabling legal environment is equally important for us.'
Gay sex is criminalized in the most South Asia countries but Nepal legalized homosexuality in 2007.
Subarna Karmacharya, director of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, vowed to give priority to complaints regarding LGBTI issues and ensure that gay rights receive special mention in its upcoming strategic plan.
The consultation was jointly organized by Blue Diamond Society, Asia Pacific Transgender Network and UNDP under the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Program, with support from UNAIDS, USAID, PEPFAR and the Health Policy Project.
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