What makes personal identification documents so important? For most people, government-issued identification cards are not something we think about often. IDs and passports are simply items we carry to verify that we are who we say we are. But what if those documents are wrong? What if they don’t reflect how we identify ourselves? For transgender people around the world, identification documents that are not updated to reflect changes in gender identity often become a source of stigma and discrimination.
As a transgender woman in Vietnam, Jessica Nguyen is all too familiar with these struggles. Though she underwent gender reassignment surgery some years ago, her passport and identification card were not updated to reflect her new identity. As a result, she faced discrimination and difficulty finding employment.
This changed for her and thousands of other transgender people in Vietnam in November 2015 with the enactment of the revised Civil Code. The Civil Code, one of Vietnam’s most important laws, regulates issues on the civil rights and obligations of individuals and organizations, as well as property rights and ownership.
Along with other historic policy reforms to extend individual rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, the revisions included the right to update identification documents to reflect gender changes.
The revisions were spurred by USAID’s Governance for Inclusive Growth (GIG) project, a five-year project implemented by Chemonics in partnership with the Vietnamese government’s Ministry of Justice to cultivate sustainable social inclusion. The program also works to increase trade and investment, enhance private sector competitiveness, strengthen the rule of law and judicial effectiveness, and establish more effective public administration and financial management.
Policymakers at every level of government have worked together to make legislation and the legislative process more inclusive through the GIG project, now in its fourth year. With this concerted effort toward good governance, people who might have been overlooked in the past now have the opportunity to actively participate in conversations about the laws and policies that will affect their lives. Namely, project staff have reached out to historically marginalized groups, such as women, LGBTI persons, and people with disabilities, to reduce the legal and regulatory barriers holding them back from economic opportunity.