Ihmisoikeusblogi: Legal Gender Recognition for Transgender People – And Finland as the Backwater 

Let’s do a little thought exercise: What if everyone told you that the gender you have always known yourself to be was wrong? Imagine waking up in the morning, and your body would be associated with a different gender. All the people around you, friends, family, teachers and doctors expected you to act like a man, even though you have always known that you are a woman, or the other way around. Or, you would not feel able to identify yourself as either one of them. (The National Center for Transgender Equality) 

For a transgender person, the gender that is marked in the person’s ID card has a significant impact even on the dailiest tasks. Picking up a parcel, using public transport or transacting with the authorities become challenging and may feel humiliating, if the gender in the ID card does not match the one that the person represents. Transgender people can easily be suspected of using falsified documents, and they may have to reveal their transgender identity against their own will. (Council of Europe: Protecting Human Rights of Transgender Persons. Strasbourg 2015)

In 2021, the vast majority of countries in Europe and Central Asia require a mental health diagnosis for the legal gender recognition for trans people. Some European countries like Finland, also require sterilization to complete the process. (TGEU: Trans Rights Map 2021) 

According to the European Court of Human Rights, “A state’s failure to alter the birth certificate of a person who has undergone gender reassignment, and to recognise the “new” gender, constitutes a violation of Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The problem with this alignment is its ambiguity, it does leave space for different kinds of interpretation, because it does not specifically describe the gender reassignment procedure or deny the demand of sterilization or a mental health diagnosis. Thomas Hammarberg, the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has pointed out that “in most cases the procedures for recognition of gender are a combination of complicated legal and medical requirements where the borderline between the two are often blurred”. (Council of Europe: Protecting Human Rights of Transgender Persons. Strasbourg 2015)

The requirement of a mental health diagnosis is said to help to prevent situations, for example where a teenager is going through a crisis of self identity and questions everything about themselves, starts transitioning and later regrets it. Some of the procedures and medicines used in the transitioning process can not be reversed after a certain period of time. 

The requirement of a mental health diagnosis could be modified to a softer version, which could include more discussion and support without the label of mental health diagnosis, which might feed the false assumption that being a transgender is a mental disease, which it certainly is not. By a softer way to treat transgender people we could still make sure that they are confident about their decision to start transitioning, without the demand of a mental health diagnosis.

The demand for sterilization is absurd. If the process of transitioning does not cause possible harm for fertility and in that way to children to be born later, why should it be required? There are also trans people who do not fully go through the surgical operations. The ability to reproduce is a personal right and feature that should not be taken away on any grounds. This is humiliating to the transgender person and might partly feed the twisted image that they would be invalid to have biological children because of their gender identity. 

However, the direction considering trans people’s human rights is positive. Since 2012, there has been growing awareness of the lived experience of trans and intersex individuals and greater understanding of the social, legal and economic challenges that such people face. This phenomenon is noticed in Europe, but also globally. (M. van den Brink, P. Dunne. Trans and intersex equality rights in Europe – a comparative analysis)

On most occasions I am proud to say that I am a citizen of Finland, a northern welfare state that has the best social services, education, and people are happy. The position of transgender people in Finland is like a black stain in a white shirt. It is shocking to think that at the moment in Finland, to get full legal gender recognition through one has to get sterilized. However, things could be worse. At least we do not have a system that would criminalize the expression of transgender identity. Luckily, this thought also feels very absurd and distant. 

Just like globally, the positive direction is seen also here in Finland. The Finnish Parliament has discussed on the reformation of the law considering transgender issues (translaki). The majority of the parties in the Parliament are in favor of this reformation. One of the most important aspects of the reformation is the removal of the demand for sterilization.

Eeva Tanttula 

The author is the Vice President for Financial Management 20212022