1. What does ‘intersex’ mean?
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.
According to experts, between 0.05% and 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits – the upper estimate is similar to the number of red haired people.
Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics, and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual, and may identify as female, male, both or neither.
Because their bodies are seen as different, intersex children and adults are often stigmatised and subjected to multiple human rights violations, including violations of their rights to health and physical integrity, to be free from torture and ill-treatment, and to equality and nondiscrimination.
(Source: UN Free & Equal Campaign, “Intersex Fact Sheet”)
2. What are the main concerns for intersex people?
- Medically unnecessary surgeries and medical treatments that aim to ‘normalise’ intersex bodies without their full and informed consent.
- No respect to intersex people’s right to physical integrity and ability to develop their gender identity.
- Isolation, invisibility and low awareness of existence of intersex people.
- Difficulties to accessing own medical records.
- Stigmatisation and social exclusion resulting from strict interpretations and views of sex and gender binaries.
- Pathologisation of intersex variations and traits.
- Medical interventions on intersex foetuses.
- Medicalisation of intersex people restricts right of intersex people to access high quality healthcare.
- Birth registration procedures and medical pressure to conform put an overwhelming burden on parents of intersex babies to make quick (and uninformed) decisions.
- International sports bodies apply discriminatory sex-verification procedures.
3. What are the key demands from intersex activists?
- Stop unnecessary medical treatments and surgeries of intersex people without their consent.
- Respect intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex assignment treatment.
- Review medical classifications which pathologise intersex people.
- Improve law and policy to facilitate the legal recognition of intersex individuals on official documents, respecting their right to self-determination.
- Ensure that national equal treatment and hate crime legislation protects intersex people.
- Give intersex people full access to their medical records.
- More in-depth research needed to adequately address discrimination and other violations of intersex people’s human rights.
- Raise public awareness and improve professional training about the problems encountered by intersex people.
- Involve intersex people in the development of measures to address the problems.
- Improve counselling of intersex children and their families.
- Facilitate intersex people’s access to justice and investigate and acknowledge past human rights violations.
(Source: Council of Europe, Infographic of the issue paper on human rights and intersex people, published by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights)
4. What is Intersex Awareness Day?
Intersex Awareness Day takes place on October 26 and marks the first public demonstration by intersex people in North America. Morgan Holmes and Max Beck of Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) were joined by allies from Transexual Menace and other organizations in Boston, Massachusetts outside a conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
(Source: Intersex Awareness Day, http://intersexday.org/en/intersex-awareness-day/)
5. What is the ‘Malta Declaration’?
The third International Intersex Forum, held in Malta in between the 29 November and 1 December 2013, brought together 34 activists representing 30 organizations from all regions of the world. Participants at the Forum adopted a statement that affirmed the existence of intersex people and lists a number of demands and actions in relation to several human rights issues (and violations).
The full statement, which became known as the “Malta Declaration” can be read here (in English), here (in French).
6. What are some positive developments in addressing the human rights of intersex people?
- Legislative changes in some countries that recognise intersex people and protect them from discrimination
- Emerging jurisprudence challenging human rights violations of intersex people
- Pioneering work to raise awareness by intersex and LGBTI NGOs, equality bodies and other national and international human rights mechanisms
- Emerging progressive views among some health practitioners on the harm caused by unnecessary medical interventions
- Increased attention given to the human rights of intersex people by international organizations, such as the United Nations
In 2013, Australia adopted the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act – the first law to include intersex status as a stand-alone prohibited ground of discrimination. The Australian Senate has also carried out an official inquiry into the involuntary or coerced sterilization of intersex people.
In 2015, Malta adopted the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act – the first law to prohibit surgery and treatment on the sex characteristics of minors without informed consent. It also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics.