Nepal Constitution Aims High
Following centuries of monarchy and a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006, Nepal has emerged as a democratic republic with one of the world’s most progressive stances on LGBT rights, which could be promulgated in a new constitution this year unless the government further delays its implementation.
Extended once last year, the constitution's deadline was put off by three months more in late May. Lawmakers disagree on broad questions of government structure, not the LGBT content—some of the most inclusive language of any nation.
“The LGBT issues are pretty well formulated in the draft, and there is no opposition, so we don’t need to worry about that,” says Sunil Pant, Nepal's first openly gay elected official and a member of the interim constituent assembly writing the document. “Our concern is about how long it will take to have the constitution.”
Pant, who is pushing for adoption of the constitution this year, says the draft proposes citizenship rights for “third gender” individuals, who identify as neither male nor female; bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; calls for government affirmative action in support of LGBT people; and proposes gender-neutral language on the rights to work, health, education, and marriage, the latter also being drafted in a separate law directed by a supreme court ruling.
Pant, founder of the LGBT rights network the Blue Diamond Society and the tourism company Pink Mountain Travels and Tours, attributes the success to a receptive private sector, lack of sensational media, and the Hindu religious tradition, which has deities that challenge binary gender norms. He also cites the movement’s organizational acumen, and he believes the pace and quality of change will allow Nepal to implement its constitution whenever it is finally adopted. Nepal's situation is likely to differ from that of South Africa, which has a notably progressive constitution but a disconnect between law and reality.