In a landmark ruling for a section of people in the Netherlands who do not identify as either male or female, a local court has said a third gender should be enshrined in law.

The Limburg District Court in Roermond city reportedly cited Supreme Court judgments from India and Nepal when it ruled that the “time is ripe for the recognition of a third gender”.

The court gave its ruling in the case of an unnamed applicant who it said could now be recorded in the Dutch birth register as “gender undetermined” as opposed to male or female.

Until now, Dutch citizens have had to be registered as either a man or a woman.

“To enable the registration of a third gender ‘X’, a legal amendment is crucial. It’s now up to the lawmakers,” the judges said in their ruling.

The transgender population in the Netherlands is estimated to be 0.2 to 2.0 per cent of the country’s 17 million people. Local activists have hailed the ruling as a step towards recognising the rights of transgenders.

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“This can be called revolutionary within Dutch family law,” a report in Independent quoted Brand Berghouwer of the Netherlands’ Transgender Network as having said in a statement.

If the Dutch legislature decides to amend legislation to make way for citizens to legally identify as neither male nor female if they prefer, the Netherlands will join a select group of countries where a third gender is officially recognised in law. Apart from India and Nepal, there are at least four other countries — Australia, Germany, Nepal and Bangladesh — that provide a third option.

While Nepal’s apex court had taken the decision way back in 2007, the Supreme Court of India ruled in 2014 that transgender people should be legally recognised according to their gender identity – male, female and third gender.

“The Dutch judgment is the latest affirmation that South Asia’s principled and tenacious activists, lawyers, and judges continue to influence the world. Governments in the region now have an opportunity to set a further example by ensuring these rulings are fully enforced and third gender legal recognition is available to everyone who seeks it,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.

She says both India and Nepal cases — as well as the new Dutch judgment — cite the Yogyakarta Principles, a codification of “binding international human rights standards related to sexual orientation and gender identity”. The 35-page Yogyakarta Principles were published as the outcome of an international meeting of human rights groups in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in November 2006. According to Principle 3, “Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity, and freedom.”

In a report published on the human rights watchdog’s website, Ganguly, however, points out that while the legal proclamations have been promising, implementation has been piecemeal.