Human Rights

The question of non-binary gender

An introduction to non-binary gender:

(NB: obviously this is not a be-all-and-end-all guide)

  • The non-binary gender is generally defined as any gender/lack of gender/mix of genders that does not fall strictly within the two binary genders – female or male (people who have a binary gender are called cisgender).
  • Hence non-binary gender can be considered an umbrella term for many different gender identities such as agender (having no gender), demigender (e.g. partly female demigirl) and genderfluid (gender fluctuates).
  • In today’s world (especially with younger people) gender is generally accepted to be completely different from either sex or sexuality – gender is what gender/lack of gender/mix of genders a person identifies as; sex is a person’s biological sex which can be female, male or intersex (the general term used to describe someone who’s born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit into female or male); sexuality is a person’s sexual orientation or preference (this includes both romantic and sexual orientation, which can be different).
  • Gender expression is also separate from gender identity – gender expression is how someone expresses their gender (based on traditional gender expression) through behaviours, dress, speech and actions.
  • Someone can be a binary transgender person, as whilst they are transgender (their sex doesn’t match their gender), they identify with one of the two binary genders. Hence someone can be non-binary transgender, because their sex doesn’t match their gender, but they don’t identify as a binary gender.
  • Whilst it can be helpful to think of gender as a spectrum, with the two binary genders opposite each other at each end, be aware that there are people (e.g. those who identify as agender) who do not fall on the spectrum, but rather exist outside of it.
  • People who identify as non-binary may use gender-neutral words and pronouns to refer to themselves. These can include they/them pronouns, using sibling instead of sister or brother, and using Mx instead of Mr or Miss/Ms/Mrs. However be aware that this is not always the case – actress Ruby Rose is genderfluid but still uses the pronouns she/her because she feels uncomfortable using gender neutral terms for herself.
  • Many LGBT+ people use ‘queer’ to describe themselves, but be aware that the term is not used by everyone, as it has in the past been used pejoratively. Hence you shouldn’t use it unless you are part of the LGBT+ community and are referring to yourself, as not everyone is comfortable with it.
  • A report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights entitled ‘Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity’ outlined the discriminatory laws and practices, and acts of violence suffered by people who do not conform to the standard sexual and/or gender identity.
  • Discrimination towards non-binary people is significant:
  • A US 2008 study in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that genderqueer and other non-binary individuals were more likely to: suffer physical assaults (32% vs. 25%), experience police brutality and harassment (31% vs. 21%), be unemployed (76% vs. 56%) and opt out of medical treatment due to discrimination (36% vs. 27%) compared to transgender individuals who identified within the gender binary (i.e., trans men and trans women).
  • Only seven countries legally recognise a “third gender”: Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Germany, New Zealand and Australia.
  • Useful websites: (seriously, has a huge and well-informed LGBT+ community)

The views and legal positions of various UN members

  • India: recognises one of its non-binary demographics (Hijra) in law, giving them a status besides ‘male’ and ‘female’ in legal documentation, however the rest of the legal system is designed to accommodate only ‘male’ and ‘female’ citizenship. On 15 April 2014, in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India ruled that transgender people should be treated as a third category of gender and as a socially and economically “backward” class entitled to proportional access and representation in education and jobs.
  • Pakistan: the political correct terminology in Pakistan is khawaja sara, as Hijra and Khusra are considered derogatory by the khawaja sara community and human rights activists in Pakistan. In December 2009, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, ordered that the National Database and Registration Authority issue national identity cards to members of the community showing their distinct gender.
  • New Zealand: a new gender category was introduced on passports in 2012 – “X” for “undetermined or unspecified”.
  • Australia: Australian Commonwealth guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender, published in June 2013, extended the use of an ‘X’ gender marker to any adult who chooses that option, in all dealings with the Commonwealth government and its agencies. The option is being introduced over a three-year period.
  • UK: Various petitions have been signed to the UK government as the UK does not currently recognise a non-binary gender. The most recent petitition was denied on the basis that, “the Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination if it arises from their being perceived as either male or female. We recognise that a very small number of people consider themselves to be of neither gender. We are not aware that that results in any specific detriment, and it is not Government policy to identify such people for the purpose of issuing non-gender-specific official documents.” Currently UK passports are issued under the two binary genders, and a person wanting to switch it to the opposite gender must first apply and receive a Gender Recognition Certificate.
  • USA: similar to the UK, there is currently no recognition of non-binary gender. A 2014 petition to the White House met with no change in policy and the response issued was, “while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies.”

The question of freedom of expression on social media


  • Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
  • Freedom of expression is the ability to openly display or communicate one’s ideas without fear of being harmed or prosecuted. While we most commonly associate it with free speech, freedom of expression is not solely limited to verbal communication; it is the ability to express ourselves through the written word or through various mediums of art and fashion, as well as over the internet and through social media.
  • However, there are often legal limitations to freedom of expression on social media. Many countries, even western ones, prohibit users of social media from spreading hatred, and/or deliberately lying or causing harm to a person’s reputation, and some countries have far stricter rules.
  • With the rise of extremist groups, such as the IS, using social media to spread hatred, encourage others to join them, and organise attacks, restrictions upon freedom of expression on social media are likely to increase.
  • Various organizations that have combatted hate speech in other forms or have defended the rights of specific groups in the past have found themselves playing an increasingly important role online. This trend is especially evident in developed countries where internet penetration is high, and where private-sector companies are key intermediaries. This section examines campaigns and initiatives in the United States of America, Australia, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where issues of online hatred have emerged with regard to religion, race and gender.
  • Organizations like the USA-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Women, Action and the Media (WAM!); the Australian-based Online Hate Prevention Institute; the Canada-based The Sentinel Project; and the UK-based Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) have become increasingly invested in combating online hate speech by putting pressure on internet intermediaries to act more strongly against online hate speech, and by raising awareness among users.
  • Freedom of expression is also tied to a right to privacy, both on social media and outside of it, which is also under increased threat of surveillance and data collection.
  • The main questions are therefore: should freedom of expression on social media be limited? If so, to what extent? What form should the limitations take? How should these restrictions be monitored?
  • Useful websites:

The views and legal positions of various UN members

  • USA: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the United States is a party, both state that individuals have a right to freedom of expression; this right includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. The United States safeguards this right through the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution protects even the most offensive and controversial speech from government suppression, and permits regulation of speech only under certain limited and narrow circumstances. The U.S. system is built on the idea that the free and open exchange of ideas encourages understanding, advances truth seeking and allows for the rebuttal of falsehoods. The United States believes, and experience has shown, that the best way to counter offensive speech is not with regulation but with more speech.
  • China: Modern day China, more than almost any other country in the world, severely restricts its citizens freedom of speech and expression. Oddly enough, Article 35 of the current Chinese constitution, written in 1982, stipulates, “Citizens of China have freedom of speech, publication, assembly, association, procession and demonstration.”  Up to the advent of the Internet, the Chinese government had been able to successfully curtail this freedom in nearly all its physical manifestations. China has a tightly controlled traditional media, China forces all published information to be from official sources and to be vetted through the state.
  • UK: Free speech has long been recognised as a common law right in Britain, it also has a statutory basis in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In fact, Article 10 of the Convention goes beyond free “speech” and guarantees freedom of “expression,” which includes published or broadcasted material. When, however, you begin to consider hate speech that incites violence, limits are implemented on freedom of expression. Therefore, much of the law relating to free speech is concerned with trying to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and the use (or abuse) of that freedom in a way that harms society. The Convention lists several permitted reasons for limiting free speech, including national security, the protection of health or morals, and protection of peoples’ rights and reputations.