Nepal was widely praised by international media and community for making the 2021 census inclusive by adding an option of ‘others’ beyond the two genders (male and female) to count the queer population.
The second form—with 55 questions—used for the second phase of the census doesn’t have the option ‘others.’
While the category of ‘others’ itself was considered discriminatory by Nepal’s queer population as it took away their right to self-determine their gender identity and sexual orientation, the exclusion of ‘others’ in the main questionnaire of the census is a heavy compromise that queer activists had to make in the face of lack of resources and international acceptance of the national census.
The 2021 census comprises three separate questionnaires: House and Household Listing, the main questionnaire, and the Community Questionnaire.
The first phase of the census called the House and Household Listing took place from September 15 to October 4.
International standards, budgeting concerns, lack of extensive knowledge and vocabulary, and Nepal’s social acceptance of the queer community played a crucial role in such exclusion, according to the stakeholders.
“After a series of meetings with various organisations, we decided not to include the gender category of ‘others’ in form II. Firstly, individuals who do not identify within the gender binary of male and female are hesitant to speak openly about their gender identities,” says Regmi.
“Given that many people weren’t comfortable disclosing their gender identities, and the discourse on gender is still evolving and many people in Nepal are completely unaware or ignorant about it, it affects the data collection for queer population,” says Sharu Joshi Shrestha, a gender activist who has led several UN programmes.
“Queer populations are considered hard-to-reach populations. And according to international standards, manuals provided by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), we face constraints while collecting data on their population in the census, especially,” Regmi said.
Stakeholders also said they faced various complications in designing the questionnaires. “While it was important to include ‘others’ in the second form, and not just the first, we ran into various complications. For example, marriage among same-sex couples or queer folks hasn’t been recognized legally yet, and we don’t have the vocabulary to identify their marriage, or data on pregnancy, or divorces,” says Shrestha.
Shrestha has been involved with three national censuses and is actively involved with the National Census 2021.
“I, as a bisexual woman want to identify myself, not just as a woman but based on my sexual orientation. However, I am not able to do that,” KC told the Post over the phone.
Nonetheless, activists especially have always questioned the accuracy of Nepal’s decennial data, which the government and non-governmental organisations rely on to distribute economic, social, and political resources.
“We were included in various levels of training as well. The CBS invited us and gave us the space to conduct our own workshops and training. They welcomed us to submit manuals and booklets to include in the training materials as well,” said KC, who has been advocating for queer rights for seven years now.
“Queer-led organizations provided plenty of materials after the training to sensitize the master trainers – who in turn train census officers, supervisors, and enumerators – on issues of gender and sexuality. Queer community members were themselves present during the training,” says Shrestha, who is also a board member at Nepal Policy Institute, an international public policy think-tank.
The CBS has proposed a different focus survey for the queer community in Nepal addressing the wide spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientation after the national census. However, the dates of the survey haven’t been released yet.
While activists acknowledge that the survey will not cover grounds as extensively as the national census, they are hopeful that the breakdown of the gender spectrum in the survey will provide them with reliable data to advocate for their issues in the future.
Aakriti Gimire is a reporter at The Kathmandu Post covering social affairs.