THE JAPAN TIMES
Rights still lacking over gender identity disorder
By KEIJI HIRANO
More than 10 years have passed since gender reassignment surgery was introduced in Japan as part of treatment for gender identity disorder patients.
In addition, such patients, who identify with the sex opposite their biological one, have been allowed to officially change their sex under certain conditions since a special law took effect in 2004.
These developments have promoted public awareness of GID patients, but are they sufficient enough to protect their human rights? The answer, regrettably, is no.
In a notable case, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a recommendation earlier this month, based on its own research, concerning what it says is the abuse of the human rights of a prisoner diagnosed with GID.
The person in question, born male, has not undergone gender reassignment surgery to change her registered sex but identifies herself as a woman.
Placed in the Tokyo Detention House and then in Shizuoka Prison over a criminal case, the person asked for the bar association's support, saying "she" should be allowed to undergo health checkups and take baths with the attendance of female guards instead of male ones.
The inmate also said she was required to have men's underwear despite her request for female undergarments, and her hair was cut short like that of the male prisoners.
The prisoner had been in solitary confinement at the Shizuoka facility when the bar association issued the recommendation. She was quoted as saying in the association's research report, "I feel pain and uneasiness, and I can't sleep in the evening . . . I am having growing suicidal wishes."
The lawyer group considers such treatment as infringing on the inmate's human rights and recommended the two facilities to treat her as a woman in line with her sense of gender identity.
It also urged them to provide the convict, who is in her 40s, with counseling by medical experts to mitigate her suffering.
"It is impossible for gender identity disorder sufferers to change their gender awareness, so there is no other way to mitigate their plight other than treating them in accordance with their self-recognition," the bar association said in its report.
"Such treatment should be guaranteed under Article 13 of the Constitution, which stipulates that all of the people shall be respected as individuals," it said. "This constitutional right should be guaranteed to those who stay at detention facilities."
Ko Hirahara, a member of the bar association's human rights committee who worked on the report, said that while prison authorities made certain considerations, such as erecting a screen when the inmate bathed, they didn't do all they could have, including providing her with female underwear.
"For the prisoner, a womanly hairstyle and female underwear, in particular, must have been the linchpin of keeping her identity as a woman under her restricted environment," he said.
The case raises the question of "how the government should deal with issues involving gender identity disorder," Hirahara, a Saitama-based lawyer, said.
In the face of the recommendation, an official in the Justice Ministry's Correction Bureau said the ministry is now studying how to treat detainees with GID, noting that facility officials currently handle inmates in line with their registered sex.
Under the special law, people with GID are allowed to change the way their sex is listed in their family registries if they fulfill several conditions, including the absence of functioning reproductive organs as a result of gender reassignment operations.
In 2009 alone, 448 people changed their registered sex, according to statistics compiled by the Supreme Court.
On the treatment in question, Maiko Tagusari, a lawyer working as secretary general of the Center for Prisoners' Rights, a nonprofit organization, said, "It shows a lack of knowledge and understanding toward gender identity disorder.
"It is quite obvious that the authorities should provide special treatments to the detainee from a viewpoint of respecting women's privacy and dignity," Tagusari added.
Meanwhile, Aya Kamikawa, who revealed having GID and won an assembly seat in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, in 2003, said the improvement in the legal system over the issue is still insufficient.
"The special law has contributed to leading the public to see gender identity disorder as a human rights issue," said Kamikawa, who is now serving her second term. "On the other hand, however, people tend to accept the sufferers' gender awareness only after they change their registered sex.
"Sufferers are widely diverse, and the special law gives relief to only some of them," she said. "The gender awareness of those who do not undergo gender reassignment surgery should be respected, too."
It is unreasonable to allow only those who underwent the surgery to be allowed to register as the opposite sex, Kamikawa said. "Acceptance of each person's gender awareness is essential in human rights protection."