Sweden should introduce a third legal gender

There's a great need for a new view on legal gender. Many countries offer their citizens the opportunity to change their legal gender to something other than male or female. Sweden should follow their lead.

July 27 2020

Currently, more people than ever identify as non-binary, i.e. as neither male nor female. Swedish legislation has yet to adapt to this fact. Legal gender is just a digit in a personal identity number and a letter in a passport. In many countries, it’s as easy to change one’s legal gender as it is to change one’s first name. In Sweden, however, we only have two legal genders, and a medical assessment is mandatory to change the gender assigned at birth.

Forcing people to undergo medical assessments to get the right legal identity isn’t worthy of a country claiming to safeguard human rights. At the same time, today, there are many people who will never get the right legal gender as long as there only are two.

It’s important that all people’s identity documents contain the right information about who they are. Countries that have already legally recognised more than two genders, like Malta and Iceland, have introduced a third legal gender. Other countries have made it possible to remove gender from important documents. The government in the Netherlands, for example, recently made the decision to remove information about gender in identity documents starting 2025.

If a person already has a third legal gender in another country, they will be forced to chose to be registered as either male or female if they move to Sweden. Not only is an individual’s gender identity in such a case not recognised by the authorities, but they are also forced to “assume” a gender that they have actively rejected in their country of origin.

There are many reasons for the current legislation being out of date. The personal identity numbers are running out. RFSL believes that our personal identity numbers should be gender-neutral. That would mean that one’s gender cannot be deduced by looking at the digits. Not having to change your personal identity number when changing legal gender would make it easier for everyone who has to change their legal gender, as well as for the authority that processes the change. Sweden is pretty unique in having gendered personal identity numbers.

One concern that has been put forth is that the introduction of a third legal gender would affect gender equality policy negatively. It won’t. Everybody will still have a legal gender. We will still be able to measure equality between men and women. The biggest effect would be that the statistics become a little more correct since everybody who is neither male nor female will be represented.

In a recent process where Sweden was investigated in the UNHRC, Sweden was recommended to introduce a third legal gender. Unfortunately, Sweden decided not to follow this recommendation. RFSL means that the government needs to modernise its view on gender. It would make life easier for many individuals.

The opinion article was published in Svenska Dagbladet July 27 2020

Deidre Palacios, president of RFSL
Frank Berglund, vice president of RFSL