INTERSEX NOT HERMAPHRODITE – Ibrahim Mawanda, Communications Desk - SIPD
Way back, intersex people or people medically known to have DSDs (Disorders of Sex Development) were referred to as hermaphrodites. However, this has been proven wrong by intersex activists since, it is inappropriately used and worst of all dehumanizing. Intersex (and in some instances, DSDs) are terms that are preferred and generally acceptable among rights activists and rights-based medical practitioners. The word “hermaphrodite” is to a very small extent used by some people who are still ignorant about sex development variations, particularly in the developing world. But also in some instances, the term “hermaphrodite” is spitefully used by people who want to stigmatize and be abusive to people with intersex conditions.
Technically, intersex refers to the congenital deviations of the reproductive and sexual system from what is typical. On the other hand, hermaphrodite as far as biology is concerned means a plant or an organism that fully has both male and female sets of reproductive organs (like snails and earth worms). It is important to note that intersex is an umbrella term that covers a range of conditions related to sex differentiation. In relation, it’s important to note that there are some conditions that are not to do with one’s genitalia like Turner’s syndrome and Klinefelter’s syndrome but more to do with one’s chromosomal and gonadal make up.
Typically, people have two sex determining chromosomes one of which is what is called an “X” chromosome and the second of which may be either another “X” or a “Y” chromosome.
In a typical sequence, two X chromosomes in combination in each cell of a person produce a female bodily type and an X and Y chromosome in combination produce a male bodily type. As such, intersexuality results from mismatches in these patterns and combinations. These mismatches result in medically termed conditions such as the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Congenital Adrenal hyperplasia, Hypospadias, turner’s syndrome etc.
Many people – including intersex people themselves – refer to themselves as having “two private parts”. But humanly speaking, this cannot occur in the nature of a human being. A human being cannot have two sets of genital organs (male and female) which fully function at the same time. What a human being will have are genitals that are either indeterminate, or ambiguous in appearance and functionality – lying in between female and male. Still, an intersex person may have a set of genitals for one sex but have internal organs for another sex - for example an individual with male genitals may have internal ovaries and empty testicle sacks or one with female genitals may have internal testes instead of ovaries, or in some instances, may have one ovary and one testis ( a condition known as ovotestes).
Sadly, even medical practitioners – including birth attendants – have unknowingly referred to people with intersex conditions as hermaphrodites because intersex bodies do not neatly conform to what they define as the typical male or female bodies.
SIPD Uganda, seeks to demystify these myths, which are misleading, tormenting and stigmatizing. This mythological term is harmful and abusive to children and people with these conditions and causes parents of these children to panic. It’s therefore not an appropriate term to apply when referring to intersex people and so dissuade people from using it. It is demeaning and dehumanizing.
In conclusion, it’s permissible to say that snails and earthworms are hermaphrodites, humans are not.
Two human rights groups in Uganda have this morning launched a
documentary: She is My Son- The Pain of being an Intersex person in
Uganda, with a call on government to protect intersex people by
availing families with information on intersexuality.
The two organizations, Support Initiative for People with atypical Sex
Development (SipdUganda) and Uganda Health and Science Press
Association noted with concern that many intersex people are denied
their full potential in life for simply being who they are.
The documentary has also been posted on you tube:
Mr. Julius Kaggwa, the SIPD Uganda Executive Director said while
launching the documentary that intersex people face
discrimination,isolation and stigma based on their genital make up and
other conditions that not necessarily lead to ambigious genitalia.
“ The current approach in treatment is that health workers and
families are using the concealment oriented approach. They undertake
surgery without the express consent of the intersex individual,” Mr
He also noted with concern that the tests which are undertaken before
surgery are in many cases especially for young children are
disputable. “ For example an estrogen test may be taken on a child and
a decision is reached for surgery, yet at puberty for example, a
similar test would determine which genital is predominant,” he said.
There are also legal challenges in Uganda, where there is no third
gender, yet some intersex would want to be counted among “ the
other.” “ In some case female hormones are not enough to make a
particular person a woman, neither are the male hormones. How then do
you legally characterize such a person without traumatisong them. This
calls for information availability to the public, but also for the
legal and policy makers in this country,” Mr Kaggwa added.
“ This is a volunteer documentary, a first to highlight the plight of
intersex people to the wider global community,” Mr Kikonyogo Kivumbi,
the Uhspa Uganda Executive Director said at the launch in Kampala.
He called on government to promote the intersex people’s rights to
health and education as Ugandans. “ I also appeal to the Uganda
Paediatric Association, a consortium of paeditric experts to come out
and senstise people on intersex. Many people wrongly think that all
intersex are homosexuals. Certainly the children doctors can clarify
this to end stigma.” Kikonyogo added.
SIPD UGANDA NEWSLETTER
JAN- APRIL 2012
January through April was an exciting and busy period for us. In this inaugural news letter, we would like to share highlights of achievements and news with our partners and friends. It is our intention to continually update our partners, allies, and friends of significant progress as we work towards human rights, social support, and health for intersex children and people in Uganda.
Community Outreach and Trainings
Rakai, Lwengo and Masaka
Tororo, Mbale, and Soroti
Between 4th and 8th April, the projects officer followed-up existing clients in Mbale and Soroti districts. Followed up clients were doing quite well, including one who had fully recovered from surgery facilitated by SIPD. Alliances were built with Nabeneka Primary School, local council leaders, and health workers. 58 people were trained. A challenge of language barrier was encountered in Soroti and it was not very easy to get a volunteer translator. Resources to pay
Staff capacity building
Staff development has been a key focus and in February, SIPD staff participated in the second phase of a staff capacity building training by EASUN. The training covered strategic planning and organizing, which included taking stock of previous work, partnerships built locally and internationally, and organizational needs that must be addressed in order to systematically promote the health and rights of intersex children and people in the country.
The training of paralegals is a brain child of our partner, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). It aims at equipping activists and project people working with sexual and gender minorities, to enable them interpret and apply the law in their various fields of work. SIPD staff participated in this training.
Management skills training
Other News and updates!
Refugee Law Project Sexual and Gender Based Violence week
During March, the SIPD Communications Officer presented gender based violence perspectives gleaned from our interactions with intersex people and parents of intersex children – particularly mothers. He participated in a street march as well as a round table that deliberated on these issues. The week-long event conducted by the Refugee Law Project highlighted human trafficking and SGBV issues among minority populations, including refugees in their host communities
Widening our networks…
“SHE IS MY SON” – a preliminary documentary: Together with the Uganda Health and Science Press Association, SIPD launched a documentary entitled “She is My Son- the Pain of being an Intersex person in Uganda.” The 7-minute documentary focusing on the life of one intersex person prepares the way for a more detailed documentary titled “My Secret Life” supported by AJWS and HIVOs, which will be launched with a screening in early June. The two organizations noted with concern the continued marginalization, discrimination and stigma surrounding intersex people simply because of genital ambiguity and other conditions that did not necessarily lead to ambiguous genitalia, and urged the Uganda government to protect intersex people by making available information on intersexuality to families.
The documentary can be viewed on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMfRrc64rl4&feature=share
The “Transitioning Africa” Alliance
PThe call for participation is out for the Leadership and Capacity Building Camp for African intersex and trans activists,
set for the third quarter of 2012!
SIPD joins OII (Organisation Intersex International) to celebrate the ongoing 14 days of intersex awareness across the globe. This awareness is timely to SIPD's own national media campaign around intersex awareness.
I have been following the story of Semenya and the controversy that has arisen from her outstanding achievement at the world games simply because her athletic ability and appearance are perceived to be too masculine for her to be a woman.
One of the greatly disturbing details is the irregularity in gender judgement by IAAF between the time Semenya registered for the games and the time of her win. Is it possible that Semenya looked more of a man than a woman after she won the gold medal than she did when she was entered into the games? Are chromosomal, hormonal, and gynaecological tests a standard “requirement” for participating in sports as a woman or a man? One would wonder which is a worse violation: – exclusion from event participation or denial of the gold medal on the basis of Semenya’s body type, yet none of the two compare to being forced to undergo humiliating invasive “gender verification” tests.
Even more disturbing is the implied gendering of performance in sports, particularly depicting women as having less sports competence and the suggested exclusion of intersex and gender non conforming individuals in mainstream sports participation. This unwarranted uproar around Semenya’s gender can only mean further isolation and discrimination of intersex and gender variant people and perhaps the introduction of patronizing ‘special’ sports events for people like us just like there is a sports category for the ‘physically disabled’. Even so, subjecting Semenya to humiliating, invasive non-consensual ‘gender verification’ tests just to satisfy IAAF’s stereotypical binary gender dichotomy, is committing both gender sadism and a major human rights violation against Semenya and against all intersex and gender variant individuals in Africa.
As an intersex rights advocacy voice in Uganda, SIPD condemns both IAAF and The Guardian’s decision to turn Semenya’s physical appearance into an unnecessary gender identity controversy; and the conjecture that she perhaps is intersex and if so, then she needs surgery to be a ‘real’ woman.
Many athletes of every gender are muscular owing to the amount of physical exercise and nutritional specifications their bodies are subjected to. Several of these graced the line up at the world games and to single Semenya out of all of them shortly after a gold medal win appears pre-meditated and is outright discriminatory. What seems to be Semenya’s crime? Is it that Semenya’s body is more masculine than is socially desirable for a woman? Is it that her athletic ability matches that of men? Or is it that she is suspected to be intersex? The charge against Semenya is simply that she is a human being whose gender presentation is traditionally non conforming. Does she have a problem with it? Certainly not! But IAAF does and with this gesture, IAAF is encouraging gender violence and discriminatory treatment towards African gender variant people.
We condemn this gesture by both IAAF and “The Guardian” as racist, and offensive to African gender non conforming people and particularly intersex people. Having been born intersex in Africa, I know first hand how those desperate to justify social injustices against people like myself and Semenya who are different will either equate or compare us to every falsehood imaginable. How for example could a conversation between Semenya’s grandmother and a reporter negate Semenya’s identity as a woman? Scarier than this falsehood is the verdict Semenya awaits after the tests by the “experts”. Who can determine if she is a woman or a man except Semenya herself? And what if she is neither man nor woman? Because that too does exist! Which ‘expert’ will determine for me which side to stand on if God has crafted me uniquely in between or all-embracing? The plain question is why is diversity too painful to embrace? After all, diversity is a divine key characteristic of the universe.
Whilst male athletes undergo simple blood tests to detect the use of drugs, a young African woman has to be forced to undergo extremely invasive and traumatic tests to ‘detect’ her gender! This is not simply outrageous, it is a violation, it is wrong, and it is a direct attack on Semenya’s person and on all of us born with bodies that are not typical and we strongly contest it.
SIPD Uganda is a grassroots not for profit human rights organization, which promotes support and human rights for intersex children and people in Uganda.