Third gender option for birth certificates approved in Bundestag

Germany has passed a change in law that allows for people to opt for a third gender option on official forms.

Third gender option for birth certificates approved in Bundestag
Photo: DPA

The Bundestag passed the change in the law on Thursday and it means Germans can state a gender as “divers” which translates as “diverse” or “various” on birth certificates.

It means people born as intersex, a broad term encompassing people who have sex traits, such as genitals or chromosomes, that do not entirely fit with a typical binary notion of male and female, can be registered in this way.

The change in the law also allows for birth certificates to be changed retrospectively if the wrong gender was previously chosen at birth. Germans will also be able to change their first name on their birth certificate if they feel their gender was entered incorrectly. For both, however, a medical certificate is usually required.

The move came after Germany’s highest court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional to force people to choose if they were either male or female.

According to the United Nations, between 0.05 and 1.7 percent of the global population are intersex — about the same percentage as people with red hair.

Sometimes this is apparent at birth, at other times it becomes noticeable in puberty.

SEE ALSO: 'Diverse': Cabinet agrees to third gender on birth certificates

Since 2013 Germany has allowed babies born with characteristics of both sexes to leave the gender options of male and female blank.

The Federal Constitutional Court gave parliament until the end of 2018 to amend the current legislation.

The decision was in favour of an appeal brought by an intersex adult and said that courts and state authorities should no longer compel intersex people to choose between identifying as male or female.

However, advocacy groups argue that the resulting legislation doesn't go far enough. According to them, in most cases, it requires people to produce a doctor's certificate to change their status.   

The lesbian and gay association of Germany (LSVD) as well as some politicians, including from the Green party and the Social Democrats, criticized the move saying that intersexuality was about more than just physical attributes, and that evidence in the form of a medical certificate should not be required.

LSVD board member Henny Engels stressed “that gender cannot be determined solely by physical characteristics, but is also determined by social and psychological factors”, DPA reported.

Meanwhile, centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) MP Marc Henrichmann argued that the official civil register must be based on evidence rather than self-assessments.

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Berlin activists show manspreaders who wears the trousers

Manspreading is annoying for everyone on public transport. Now Berlin-based activists are trying to raise awareness and stamp it out.

Berlin activists show manspreaders who wears the trousers
Feminist activists Elena Buscaino and Mina Bonakdar on the Berlin subway. Photo: DPA

A man lounges across two seats on a crowded Berlin train, oblivious to his surroundings – until the two women opposite him suddenly spread their legs, revealing a message on their trousers: “Stop spreading”.

Feminist activists Elena Buscaino and Mina Bonakdar are on a mission to stamp out manspreading – the habit that some men have of encroaching on adjacent seats without consideration for their female neighbours.

“It is perfectly possible to sit comfortably on public transport without taking up two seats by spreading your legs,” said Bonakdar, 25.

The two female activists’ provocative stunt is part of a wider initiative called the Riot Pant Project featuring slogans printed on the inside legs of second-hand trousers.

READ ALSO: How much do women in Germany earn compared to men?

Bonakdar and Buscaino, both design students, came up with the idea as a way of helping women and LGBTQ people reclaim public spaces often dominated by men.

As well as “Stop spreading”, the project’s slogans include “Give us space” and “Toxic masculinity” – which, in a nod to the behaviour of those they are aimed at, are only revealed once the wearer shows their crotch.

“It is only through imitation that the interlocutor understands the effect of his or her behaviour,” said Buscaino, 26. 

Ancient phenomenon

But she also admits that very few men immediately change their posture when confronted with the slogans, as observed by AFP on the Berlin underground.

“They are often just astonished that women are behaving like that in front of them,” she said — but she hopes the project will at least give them food for thought.

For Bonakdar, simply wearing the trousers in itself allows women to “feel stronger and gain confidence”.

Although it may seem trivial to some, the problem of manspreading has existed almost since the dawn of public transport.

“Sit with your limbs straight, and do not with your legs describe an angle of 45, thereby occupying the room of two persons,” the Times of London advised as early as 1836 in an article on bus etiquette, as cited by Clive D.W. Feather in “The History of the Bakerloo Line”.

The term “manspreading” was coined in 2013 when New York subway users began posting photos of nonchalant male passengers and their contorted neighbours on social media.

According to a 2016 study by Hunter College in New York City, 26 percent of male subway users in the city are guilty of the practice, compared with less than 5 percent of women.

The US metropolis was one of the first in the world to try to start curbing the behaviour.

In 2014, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched a campaign featuring signs with the message: “Dude… Stop the Spread, Please”.

Gender roles

Similar campaigns have also since been launched in South Korea, Japan, Istanbul, and Madrid, where manspreading has even been punishable with fines since 2017.

The campaigns have sparked a backlash on the internet, with men citing biological differences as a way of justifying the need to spread their legs even if no scientific study has yet proven their argument.

Instead, the phenomenon has more to do with “gender roles” in society, Bettina Hannover, a psychologist and professor at the Free University of Berlin, told AFP.

“Men sit more possessively and indicate dominance with their seating position, while women are expected to take up less space and above all to behave demurely,” she said.