I've read the lex regarding the contents of any passports issued in the EU, however it provides no explanation as to the necessity of the points. So why is it necessary that your sex be presented in a travel document? Is it because of cultural precautions towards countries where legislation makes difference between men and women in everyday life, even for tourists, or is there some other explanation for that? In the times of legal equality, why isn't someone's sex/gender their own private business?

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    When the practice was instituted, it was for the same reason that height and eye colour were put on there - characteristics that helped with identification but were unlikely to change. Nowadays that's not so helpful. Jul 3, 2014 at 13:35
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    @DJClayworth The fact that society is now more aware of (and in parts of the world more sympathetic to) a minority of individuals for whom the field is non or counterproductive doesn't change that it still is helpful for identification in most cases. Jul 3, 2014 at 14:05
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    What is lex? Legislation?
    – TRiG
    Jul 3, 2014 at 14:43
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    It would seem that the passport should reflect the outward appearance of the individual, as far as it can be determined, vice how the person lives their life. It's not meant to be discriminatory in as much as "I live my life as a woman, even though I have not gone through trans-formative procedures", but rather I may live my life as a woman but am still physically a male and that is what the passport control will SEE.
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 3, 2014 at 15:21
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    @András Hummer - by this logic, why not remove the picture as well? What's the point of not specifying sex? Jul 3, 2014 at 20:03

2 Answers 2


It is an ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standard, and as you know ICAO is the organization that standardize all international travel documents.

From the document ICAO 9303 (Machine readable Travel Documents) which regulates all kinds of travel documents worldwide including passports:

11/II (Mandatory), Sex, Sex of the holder, to be specified by use of the single initial commonly used in the language of the State where the document is issued and, if translation into English, French or Spanish is necessary, followed by an oblique and the capital letter F for female, M for male, or X for unspecified.

Anyway, there are some studies to remove the gender field from travel documents, such as the review from New Zealand Passport Office, things are still under study and it will take long time for this to be implemented, as such a change will require a lot of policies and procedure all over the world to be changed as well.

To answer the why part, the gender field is/was important to identify the passport's holder along with other features, some guys do look like girls with long hair and vice versa, it also reduces the risk of issuing the passport to the wrong identity or issuing multiple passports to one person, I guess the gender field is there to help in these cases. Read the review by the new Zealand passport office mentioned earlier for more details on this.

  • Thank you. However it still doesn't answer the 'why'. Jul 3, 2014 at 13:27
  • @AndrásHummer answered now Jul 3, 2014 at 13:33
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    I would add that the sex was historically used to help identify people when identity documents did not necessarily contain photographs. In the absence of a photograph, such documents would include as much descriptive data about a person as possible to associate the document with the person it identifies: hair color, eye color, height, weight, distinguishing marks (which would list visible scars, for example). These things have been gradually falling out of use over time (for example, one of my passports lists my height; the other does not), but sex is among the last to go.
    – phoog
    Mar 13, 2019 at 14:46
  • A lot of it is that "it's manditory". I was discussing removing gender from driver's licenses in my state in the US, but my representative and I decided not to go for that because it would fall afoul of REAL ID. They introduced gender self-designation on driver's licenses instead.. Similarly, countries like Malta have not removed gender from passports, but made the gender self-designated to M, F, or X.
    – artemist
    Mar 14, 2019 at 0:36

No matter how ‘gender-neutral’ our culture tends to be, many women have big issues with stripping in front of or being touched by unknown men. To a lesser extent, some men have similar issues.

It is an issue in WC or changing rooms, but when it comes to travelling, there are issue with personal control. If there is be a need for personal control, then men will ‘serve’ men and women will ‘serve’ women.

Apart from identification purposes, which are less useful in a cold climate (with many layers of clothing worn), that reason is important enough to have this data in passports.

As for privacy issues, your height and eye colour are your private business too, but this doesn’t mean that they won’t be put in your official documents. Applying for personal ID was the first time in my life that I had to think about what colours my eyes are, and it was not a trivial question.

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    Not entirely implausible but generally who will search you is simply based on how you look, possibly on your own request, I have never seen anybody checking a passport for that.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 3, 2014 at 14:53
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    @Relaxed: Well, were you ever present in a situation where airport staff would assign someone other to search a passenger than the one the passenger would have preferred (based on gender), to the point that the passenger would have to show any documents to support their claim? Jul 3, 2014 at 16:13
  • @O.R.Mapper : Such visual cues, like gender, eye color, height or others, can also make it slightly more difficult to steal someone else's passport and to travel under their identity.
    – vsz
    Sep 29, 2016 at 15:30

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