Intersex Rights in Rural Settings: The first dialogue of its kind in South Africa
By Kellyn Botha and Joshua Sehoole
In honour of Intersex Awareness day, a dialogue took place on Monday 23 October 2017 to discuss ‘Intersex Human Rights in Rural and Traditional Settings’, co-hosted by Iranti, Intersex South Africa (ISSA) and the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ (CRL) Rights Commission.
The meeting, chaired by Obed Semono of the CRL, saw 41 stakeholders come together from a diversity of backgrounds. ANC representatives, community healthcare workers and traditional healers joined with representatives from CRL, Iranti and the newly re-launched Intersex South Africa (ISSA), to find a way forward with regard to the severe human rights violations which continue to take place against intersex persons, specifically infants and children, in rural and traditional settings.
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads or genitals that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. In some countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, when an intersex variation is evident at birth, newborn children may suffer infanticide, abandonment, or stigmatisation from their own families. In South Africa, a study recently revealed that 88 out of 90 midwives indicated that when an intersex child is born they commit infanticide and tell the mother that the child was stillborn. This infringes on several rights, including the right to life, right to privacy and autonomy, prohibitions against torture and other degrading treatment, and goes against the best interests of otherwise healthy children.
The dialogue itself was planned as a first step toward redress, by educating stakeholders and building a network of allies to help put a stop to the discrimination and the killings. The meeting was a melting pot of languages to actively allow exploration of traditional understandings of intersex people, and the first portion of the meeting was spent finding common language and frameworks within which to discuss the issues at hand.
Later, intersex delegates took turns telling their own stories, many of which show not only the physical challenges that intersex South Africans have to face, but also the psychological impact of stigma and discrimination. In every case, intersex representatives made it very clear that intersex variations are a natural part of bodily diversity, and the responsibility of traditional leaders and the CRL commission to address human rights issues with urgency.
Attendees to the dialogue brainstormed short, medium and long term interventions aimed at better educating families, communities and healthcare workers, as well as training traditional birth attendants.
Before the conclusion of the day all present affirmed their dedication to working to promote and protect the lives and rights of intersex people across the country.