My ID, my identity?

Sheistah Bundhoo-Deenoo

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Proof of identity is vital in modern society. Individuals need identity documents (ID) to participate in many aspects of civil, political, and economic life. These include obtaining a job, opening a bank account, borrowing from a financial institution, and owning a property or a business in addition to traveling, voting, and gaining access to health and social welfare services. But what if your identity does not match with that on your National Identity Card? Most national ID or identifying documents include a sex or gender marker.

In Mauritius, a paradox unfolds on the documents that “define” us: the Birth Certificate and the National Identity Card. On our Birth Certificate, “sex” is inscribed as a biological distinction between male and female. On the National Identity Card, “gender” is specified, yet this designation is inextricably tied to one’s sex at birth, offering no room for the spectrum of identities that exist beyond the binary. Where are we gearing towards? Is this not a gifted opportunity enough to embracing diversity in gender, or are we still confined within the limits of traditional norms?

The distinction between sex and gender is not merely semantic. If we go by the theoretical concepts, sex refers to the biological characteristics assigned at birth, while gender is a broader concept that encompasses the roles, behaviours, activities, and identities that society considers appropriate for men, women, and non-binary individuals. Well, I know and I acknowledge that this conceptual definition is still very vague to many people (or simply they refuse the definitions altogether) but do you also realise that these very definition is of utmost importance to people who are struggling with their identities on a daily basis?

In many parts of the world, there has been a progressive shift towards recognizing and validating this difference. Some countries are now making efforts towards recognising a third gender. India, for instance, legislated in 2014 to recognise a third gender and a person’s right to self-identify. In Canada, following a campaign from the Gender Free ID coalition, Kori Doty’s child, Searyl, was the first to be born with “U” (unspecified or unknown) on their health card. In Germany, since January 2019, people now have the option to choose “other” on their driving licence, birth certificate and other official documents. I am not writing this piece to present you with the success stories that exists internationally; I rather wish to open a discussion around this difference which lies in our Birth Certificate and National Identity Card. On which basis is the gender definition provided in the National Identity Card? I do not recall being asked my preferred gender when I presented to the said office to have my ID at the age of 18!

The National Identity Card Act (Act 60 of 1985) stipulates that “5. (2) Every identity card shall contain, in electronic form or otherwise (c) the gender of the person and on the other hand, the Civil Status Act (Act 23 of 1981) mention that in the entry registering a birth, the officer shall record— (b) the sex and the names of the child. My question here is, are we using the term sex and gender interchangeably or is it that we really have the choice to select our preferred gender upon issuing our National Identity Card? Unfortunately, I do not think that this is the case as much as it might seem logical, right? Would it not be a shame to just say that we have made a mistake in our official documents? Or use this rather as an opportunity to advance inclusion in our society?

In a Policy Brief issued by the Young Queer Alliance, it is put forward that “the Mauritian Authorities have an existing legal framework and the required administrative tools and procedures to enable “sex/gender marker” change for the recognition of trans people, and by consequence, their human rights, including to the right for non-discrimination, bodily autonomy and integrity, freedom of expression, and right to life in dignity as well as the enjoyment of related human rights.” Rightly so, we do have the existing framework!

In a society where identity is the foundation of our very existence, it is imperative that we recognize and respect the diverse gender identities that exist. This is a call to experts in this field to work together towards the creation of a society where individuals can express their gender identity freely and without fear of discrimination or persecution. We need to recognize that gender identity is a fundamental aspect of a person’s identity and that it is not limited to the binary categories. It is crucial that we create a legal framework that recognizes and protects the rights of transgender individuals, including the right to change their sex/gender marker on official documents, such as passports and birth certificates.



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