Japan’s top court set to rule on sterilization requirement for gender change

TOKYO – Japan’s top court is set to rule on Wednesday on the validity of a legal clause that requires people who want to legally change their gender to undergo sterilization surgery.

Several international bodies including the European Court of Human Rights, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and United Nations experts and have said such requirements are discriminatory and infringe upon human rights.

However, some local lawmakers and women’s rights groups in socially conservative Japan say a ruling that challenges the law would sow confusion and undermine women’s rights.

Japan’s Supreme Court threw out a similar legal challenge in 2019. However, a local family court last week ruled in favor of a man who requested having his gender legally changed without surgery in what rights groups called a landmark case.

“For anyone, having their gender legally recognized is an extremely fundamental human right, so being required to undergo sterilization to enjoy that right is a significant violation of human rights,” said Kanae Doi, Japan Director at Human Rights Watch.

Japan’s existing law states people who want to change gender must present a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and meet five requirements.

Those requirements are: being at least 18 years of age; not being married; not having underage children; having genital organs that resemble those of the opposite gender; and having no reproductive glands or ones that have permanently lost their function.

The case before the Court‘s 15 justices on Wednesday was brought by an unnamed plaintiff, who has been identified only as a transgender woman under the age of 50.

Her lawyers have said that the requirements violate their client’s constitutional right to pursue happiness and live without discrimination, and pose significant physical pain and financial burden to transgender people, according to local media reports.

While many countries have moved to repeal laws requiring mandatory sterilization to legally change gender, transgender rights remain a controversial topic in Japan.

A petition organized by seven pro-surgery requirement groups collected more than 20,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

Protect the Definition of Women, a group that supports upholding the surgery requirement, submitted a separate petition to the Supreme Court last week, saying that dropping the requirement would “significantly violate women’s rights and dignity”.

Last month, a group of lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party also issued a statement saying any ruling that deemed the law unconstitutional would sow confusion. – Reuters

Jino Nicolas

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