By Paul Sixpence
THE African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has implored African states to respect and promote the rights of intersex persons. At the end of its 74th ordinary session, the continental human rights body adopted a resolution on the promotion and protection of intersex persons in Africa.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), intersex people are naturally born with sex characteristics, including genitals, that do not fit typical male or female bodies. Globally, about 1.7 percent of people are born with sexual characteristics which are different from socially accepted norms.
In a statement, the Intersex Community of Zimbabwe (ICoZ), an organisation advocating for the rights and issues of intersex persons welcomed the resolution albeit with calls for ACHR to correct some of the terminology and not so clear resolutions that imply non-consensual gendering of minors at the behest of medical personnel before they attain the legal age of majority.
“We applaud the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) for taking a meaningful step towards equality and justice for intersex persons in Africa,” said ICoZ. “For the first time in its history ACHPR has adopted a legal text that speaks to the rights of intersex persons.”
Amongst the resolutions, ACHPR called for heightened protection of children born intersex, since intersexuality occurs naturally at birth and therefore “should not be considered a taboo in African societies.”
The African inter-governmental rights body further called upon states to “ensure that any action concerning an intersex minor is carried out with the permission of the parents and after medical analysis, taking strict account of the best interests of the child.”
Due to forced surgeries, hormonal and sterilisation procedures aimed at “genital normalisation”, children born intersex struggle to redress erroneous gender markers at birth later in their lives. To address this challenge, the ACHPR called for legal gender recognition for intersex persons.
“[Governments are encouraged to] enact enabling legislation and institutionalise administrative processes that allow intersex persons to change the gender designation on their birth certificates and other official documents, based on decisions taken through medical intervention,” the ACHPR resolved.
ACHPR resolutions are not binding but are an important step towards protecting and promoting rights of intersex persons at a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTIQ) persons in Africa are facing a new wave of violence, stigmatisation, harassment and discrimination. Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda are currently at various stages of drafting or implementing anti-LGBTIQ legislation. Rights groups have warned that the latest push-back could act as a barrier for intersex persons to access comprehensive, gender affirming sexual and reproductive health services.