Varying circumstances and socioeconomic livelihoods in respect of gender and sexual difference are evident in contemporary Nepal, where over the past 15 years or so significant advances have been made in terms of legal recognition of sexual rights, while many issues pertaining to the marginalisation of sexual and gender minority peoples persist. Indeed, these underlying prejudices have recently surfaced anew at the level of governance. Arbitrary arrests of transgender women and gender-nonconforming men have increased on the grounds of ‘public indecency’; sexual and gender minority parliamentary candidates had their candidacies revoked by major political parties immediately prior to the November 2013 election; and recently a new draft of the criminal code supported by international donors and written by Nepal’s Ministry of Law and Justice originally included provision for the criminalisation of any ‘unnatural’ sex (non-penile vaginal sexual intercourse) with up to a year of incarceration and a 20,000 rupee (US$200) fine. These proposals run counter to the progressive legislation concerning sexual and gender minorities passed by the Supreme Court of Nepal in 2007 and have been met by the concerted activism of queer; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and sexual rights organisations from within Nepal and beyond.

In these troubling circumstances, sexual rights and recognition exist alongside a difficult relationship to the state and legislature, and uncertain outcomes in respect of economic opportunity and exclusion for sexual and gender minorities. Moreover, the wider Nepali economy is one where economic opportunity and exclusion, prosperity and abjection exist side by side. Lack of employment and educational opportunities are ubiquitous experiences for many Nepali, especially youth and people from lower socioeconomic classes, who increasingly travel abroad to work in low-paid employment, primarily as unskilled labourers in domestic, service and construction industries. Nepal’s remittance economy is now one of the largest in the world; it is estimated that over 25 per cent of Nepal’s gross domestic product (GDP) is comprised of remittances.


This case study is a collaboration between IDS and the University of Sussex.

Case study

This case study explored the relationship between socioeconomic opportunity and exclusion in relation to minority gender and sexualities in Nepal, aiming to advance empirically grounded insights and recommendations to address the socioeconomic conditions of sexuality and gender minority peoples, in respect of varied aspects of life experience, subjectivity, self-identity and livelihood. Based on fieldwork conducted in Kathmandu, Nepal, between November 2013 and June 2014 the case study recounted experiences of socioeconomic marginalisation and opportunity as encountered and created by people who experience themselves as being different from socially normative conventions of sexuality and gender.

Many of the people who participated in the research evidence a multifaceted array of livelihood strategies as being connected to sexuality and gender difference. Some of these strategies were found to have been taken forward in the context of community-based support projects (for example, associated with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for sexual and gender minorities) while others were conceived as independent life choices, or experienced as arising out of lack of choice or economic opportunity. In each of these often interconnected circumstances, the relationship between sexuality, gender, economy and livelihood emerged as complex and ambivalent.


This case study was informed by a broadly ethnographic methodological approach, where everyday interactions, both within networks of, and in relation to, individual sexual and gender minority peoples, have facilitated an ongoing engagement in the lives and life-worlds of research participants. The co-author Daniel Coyle lived and worked within the social milieu of sexual and gender minority people in Kathmandu as a resident of the city and as someone involved in relevant support work and activism. This enabled interviews and interactions with key informants to arise out of everyday social contact and, specifically, the report derived from discussions and interactions with gender and sexual minority peoples in the Kathmandu Valley region of Nepal between November 2013 and June 2014.

The study derived more specifically from a series of in-depth open-ended interviews undertaken with variously identified and non-self-identified sexual and gender minority peoples living and working in the Kathmandu Valley region. A total of ten indepth interviews were conducted, alongside the more informal discussions with a wider range of participants. Each of these semi-structured interviews lasted for approximately an hour and a half and sought to explore dimensions of political economy, upbringing, gender and sexuality within the participants’ lives.

Sexuality and the Law: Case Studies from Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal and South Africa

  • Engaging with the law and seeking policy reform is potentially a dangerous activity especially in countries which do uphold the rule of law or where laws are in rapid flux and have little correspondence to lived social realities.
  • Sexuality is significant in relation to law and development
  • Sexuality should be explored as a broad concept and not to be confined by specific forms of categorisation of sexualities but identities and constructs can also provide entry points and modalities for legal recognition, funding for essential services and other advantages.
  • Even when the rule of law is strong, this does not ensure that the law and legal processes are appropriate or accessible.

Same-Sex Sexualities, Gender Variance, Economy and Livelihood in Nepal: Exclusions, Subjectivity and Development

  • The poverty and poor socioeconomic conditions in which many sexual and gender minority peoples live should be addressed through holistic initiatives that extend beyond skills training 
  • Initiatives addressing discrimination and socioeconomic marginalisation should be mainstreamed within pre-existing development projects
  • Specifically within the context of Nepal, avenues for people of sexual and gender minority experience to receive formal recognition and certification of their education, skills and qualifications is imperative for chances to obtain employment

Development, Discourse and Law: Transgender and Same-Sex Sexualities in Nepal

  • In 2011, Nepal became the first country in the world to add a third category in addition to male and female in the national population and housing census. Since 2013, the state have begun to issue citizenship documents listing a third gender.
  • While this affirms the equal citizenship rights of third gender people in Nepal, they continue to experience explicit prejudice, lack of economic opportunity and familial rejection.