Intersex bodied people are born with a physical sex anatomy that doesn’t fit medical norms for female or male bodies. IntersexUK recognises and works to ensure that Intersex bodied people enjoy their equal right to live free from violence, persecution, discrimination and stigma. Intersex is not a medical but a social issue. However, thousands of Intersex bodied children and adolescents are facing gross human rights violations in the form of torture, violence, discrimination, and ill treatment. These violations are happening at home, in the United Kingdom.
These violations are recognised as torture by twelve bodies of the United Nations including the WHO, Committee for the Rights of The Child, and others, the governments of Norway, Malta, Australia, Finland, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The statements below from Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Right, and Juan E. Mendez, of the United Nations Human Rights Council, illustrate the strides forward that the Intersex community are beginning to make, and that the human rights violations faced by Intersex bodied people are irrefutable and of great magnitude;
“Far too few of us are aware of the specific human rights violations faced by millions of intersex people. Because their bodies don’t comply with typical definitions of male or female, intersex children and adults are frequently subjected to forced sterilization and other unnecessary and irreversible surgery, and suffer discrimination in schools, workplaces and other settings. We plan an expert meeting to identify steps that States and others can take to end these abuses.” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
“The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, “reparative therapies” or “conversion therapies”, when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned. He also calls upon them to outlaw forced or coerced sterilization in all circumstances and provide special protection to individuals belonging to marginalized groups.” United Nation Human Rights Council - Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez
Intersex bodied people make up between 0.05% to 1.7% of the world’s population. Despite being born with healthy and functioning bodies in the majority of cases, Intersex children are regularly given forced or coercive sterilization, forced genital and anal examinations, and unnecessary treatment and cosmetic surgery without their consent.
These irreversible surgeries are medically unnecessary and are used to make Intersex bodied children conform to ideas of binary sex stereotypes. The procedures are performed without the informed consent of the child, without peer support and in situations where parents are unable to make an informed decision. These surgeries are horrific and unjustifiable, and their rationales have compared with those used for female genital mutilation (FGM).
These surgeries do not sculpt gender, but sever the futures of children. The procedures often result in permanent infertility, pain, incontinence, loss of sexual sensation, and lifelong mental suffering. Intersex bodied people are suffering the physical and emotional effects of these surgeries, and the related shame and secrecy throughout their lives. It is clear that homophobia, intolerance and ancient superstitions underpin contemporary mistreatment of Intersex bodied people. We have not encountered anyone, bar the medical workers themselves, who have agreed with these practices.
Another crucial area where Intersex bodied people’s human and civil rights are not sufficiently protected is in the current legislation that requires gender recognition certificates or birth certificates. Intersex bodied people can face challenges regarding our right to civil equality, for example a right to marriage, and equal treatment under the law. There must be scope to correct birth certificates and associated identity documents later in life. A person’s biological sex marker at birth does not necessarily correlate to one’s gender.
In addition, the language used to describe Intersex bodied people plays a crucial role in the way we understand Intersex. At present, the language used in a variety of settings is pathologizing, medicalizing and discriminatory to describe people who are healthy. An example of this is the out-dated and misleading term “disorders of sex development”, which is catalytic for carrying out these irreversible surgeries. However, already IntersexUK has made great strides in working with lecturers in bioethics and anatomy who have backed up the change in language and, subsequently, curriculums.
The approach to Intersex bodied people is a difficult and confrontational topic for medical schools and doctors to engage with as difficult as it is for doctors to acknowledge the damage done, cooperation between professional Intersex advocates. However, it is incomparable with the life-long problems for those who are still forcibly altered without fully informed consent today. No matter the discomfort, engagement between medical professionals, policy makers, Intersex human rights defenders and specialist advocates must take place.
Discriminatory views do not justify human rights violations. Human beings, as with the rest of nature, are varied and diverse. The human rights of Intersex bodied people affect everyone, and our protection is beneficial to all of society. Just by existing, Intersex-bodied people challenge the damaging preconceptions of how biology, genetics, sex, and gender relate. But, these preconceptions are being challenged everyday by actors and organisations in the Intersex community and wider society. It is crucial that Intersex people be given a voice and legal protections.
Healthy differences do not equate to life long trauma. What is needed is for Intersex bodied children, parents and families to receive counselling and support provided not just by medical professionals but also by Intersex advocates. It is time for people to see the typicality of difference.
Children right’s need to be recognised for all they are and protected for all they have the right to be.
A child’s body and bodily function is theirs for life, and the most important goal is their emotional and physical wellbeing.
IntersexUK looks forward to continuing to work through honest education in the fields of medicine, ethics, theology, and sociology, advance political engagement, and to champion the rights of Intersex bodied people.