November 3, 2022

Intersex community seeks inclusion, tasks FG on recognition, protection of rights

…Calls for banning of forced ‘corrective’ genital surgeries

By Sola Ogundipe

The Intersex community in Nigeria has called on the Federal government and relevant agencies to develop policies that recognise the rights and protect the welfare of intersex persons in the country, 

Making the call in Lagos during the 2022 Intersex Awareness Day, IAD, activities, they advocated for the banning of forced intersex genital mutilations, even as they said adequate healthcare provisions should be in place to protect intersex children and intersex persons.

They noted that the call was necessary because currently, intersex people are marginalised as there are no policies giving them hope that they are part of society.

Intersex is an umbrella term for people born with sex traits that do not fit binary medical definitions of male or female sexual or reproductive anatomy. Intersex populations are born with these differences in sex traits or may develop them during puberty or later in adulthood.

Speaking at the forum, the Executive Director & Founder of the Centre for Healthcare Development and Youth Development (Intersex Nigeria), Obioma Chukwuike,  described genital mutilation as one of the biggest challenges that intersex people  face from childbirth.

Chukwuike, an environmental technician and specialist in environmental management, founded Intersex Nigeria in 2019 to promote dignity, visibility, and equal rights for Nigerians born with variations in sex characteristics.

In a chat, they told Healthy Living, that intersex persons are normal, despite having variations other than what the medical or society has signified as male or female.

“When an intersex person is born and they have complex genitalia and their sex cannot be classified, we find that our parents and doctors most times, conduct unnecessary and non-consensual surgeries on the babies.

“When conducting these surgeries, harm by way of sterilisation, and blockage of the reproductive systems could occur. Also, the individual can be trapped in the wrong sex.”

Chukwuike remarked that there are cases of genital mutilation on intersex persons who later grow up to discover that the assigned sex at birth was not in conformity with the perceived sex growing up.

“For instance, genital mutilation could have been constructed such that the child should have a vagina, but such a child could grow up flat-chested and begin to have beards and all that, so that is why we are advising that they leave the children to at least be up to 18 so that they can understand their bodies better and if they want to undergo surgery, they can be supported.

“But doing the surgery at birth is a harmful practice and a violation of human bodily integrity and autonomy and self-determination,” they noted.

Lamenting that in Nigeria there is no database of recognition for intersex people even in the hospitals, Chukwuike said the level of stigma and discrimination was worrisome.

“Nobody talks about intersex people, nobody’s taking records and their interests are not being considered. Within families, intersex is kept secret because families do not want people to know they have given birth to intersex children.

“They keep the child secret and isolated from the other children and peers making the child feel that there is something wrong with them. We need to put an end to the discrimination against intersex people because they have rights too.

“We have issues with gender matters which are big ones. Many of us now were born female but our body is conforming to males and our certificates have female. Some of us were born male, but look female and our certificates say we are male. We cannot look for jobs and get it because people would be asking questions.

They regretted that there’s a lot of bullying of intersex people going on in the schools and called for proper public sensitisation, towards recognising the intersex community as part of society.

“You find out that there is no appropriate information in school curriculum to educate people, not even in the medical arena. I’ve had conversations with medical students who say that during their medical classes, there is no incorporation of intersex education. So how would they provide healthcare services and information to intersex people?

“In the hospitals and healthcare institutions, we don’t have adequate healthcare provisions. We want policies that protect intersex children and intersex people because currently there are none that give us hope that we are part of the society.”

Noting that there are intersex organisations all over the world, they urged for continuous public sensitisation. 

They called on the government to sit down with the intersex community, understand their challenges and issues, and know how they can work to gather.

“We have issues with gender matters which are big ones. Many of us now were born female but our body is conforming to males and our certificates have female. Some of us were born male, but look female and our certificates say we are male. We cannot look for jobs and get it because people would be asking questions.

 “We need the government to support this movement to let people know that intersex persons and their operations are natural and they should stop the stigma and discrimination.”

As part of activities for the IAD, Intersex Nigeria produced a documentary titled, “In-Between Sexes” along with a panel discussion that was also held with the chosen theme: “Making Visible the Rights and Challenges of Intersex Persons in Nigeria.”

The groundbreaking documentary shares the experiences of intersex persons in Nigeria, the secrecy, discrimination, and stigma. It reveals the unconventional lives of intersex individuals in Nigeria.

During a panel discussion on the invisibility, stigma, and discrimination many intersex Nigerians face, panelists discussed the toll risk of being submitted to harmful practices on intersex people such as Intersex Genital Mutilation practices, i.e. non-consensual, medically unnecessary, irreversible, cosmetic genital surgeries, and/or other harmful medical treatments.

Such treatments are considered normal, without evidence of benefit for the children concerned, but justified by societal and cultural prejudice, stereotypes, norms, and beliefs, and often directly financed by the states.

“Such Intersex Genital Mutilation includes “feminizing” or “masculinizing”, “corrective” genital surgery, sterilizing procedures, imposition of hormones (including prenatal “therapy”), forced genital exams, vaginal dilations, medical display, human experimentation, selective (late-term) abortion and denial of needed health care, causing known lifelong severe physical and mental pain and suffering.”

The panelists highlighted the strength and resilience of Intersex Nigeria’s recent progress in their community advocacy and stakeholder engagements and called on the Federal government and relevant agencies to see to the recognition and protection of intersex people’s rights