Japan’s supreme court ruled this Wednesday that the clause calling for the sterilization of people who decide to change their sex is unconstitutional, Reuters reports.
According to Japanese law, a person who wants to change gender must present a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, as well as meet five requirements: be at least 18 years old, not married; not having younger children, having genitals that resemble those of the other gender and not having reproductive glands or, if they do, they must have permanently lost their functionality, explains the same medium.
The case that led to Wednesday’s decision was brought by a transgender woman who is only known to be under 50 years old. Before appealing to the Supreme Court, this plaintiff saw her case dismissed by a family court and a higher court. Her lawyers considered that the last two requests violated her constitutional right to pursue her happiness and live without discrimination. They also considered it to be an imposition of physical pain and a heavy financial burden on transgender people. The lawyers also argued that years of hormone therapy had diminished their client’s reproductive capacity, so adding surgery would only cause her physical suffering and expose her to risks, adds the BBC.
This imposition was considered discriminatory and a violation of human rights by a series of entities, such as the European Court of Human Rights, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and experts from the United Nations, according to Reuters. Human’s Rights Watch welcomed the supreme court’s decision. The director of this group in Japan, Kanae Doi, stated that “the government has an obligation to make all laws constitutional, so it now needs to act quickly to remove the clause”, according to Reuters. “It’s late, but never too late.”
The law that defines that a person can only change sex if they do not have reproductive capacity dates back to 2004, according to the BBC. Japan is currently one of 18 countries that mandate sterilization surgery, something the World Health Organization opposes.
There are more conservative groups in Japan who believe that challenging this law would cause confusion regarding women’s rights. There was also a petition organized by seven groups that supported the current law and which reached 20 thousand signatures on the eve of the Supreme Court’s decision. The rights of transgender people in Japan are still very controversial. This is the only country in the G7 (the group of the seven most industrialized countries in the world) that does not recognize unions between same-sex couples.
In 2019 the Supreme Court had rejected a similar case. However, the BBC reports on a case this month in which a family court ruled in favor of a transgender man who asked for his gender change to be recognized legally, without undergoing surgery. The judge responsible for the decision understood that the law violated article 13 of the Constitution, according to which all people must be respected as individuals.