The Silence Is Too Loud!
The rainbow composition of the Kenyan population radiates a civic and aesthetic fusion of phenomenal splendor. Over 47 million Kenyans manifest the aggregate beauty of 44 ethnic derivations. The uniqueness and diversity in culture and world outlook is so profound and exhilarating to behold.
Like the proverbial ostrich, though, heads remain buried in the sand on a dimension and reality that defines a significant portion of the population. Yet the longer we keep silent the more we put in abeyance their inalienable right to belong. The silence is too loud!
The 2019 Housing and Population Census revealed existence of 1,524 intersex people in Kenya spread across all the 47 counties. Majority of the intersex fall within the childhood and youth segments of 0 – 35 years. The age distribution implies some are too young to understand their sexual identity while others are at the crossroads of deciding the path to follow in expressing their sexuality. They are beset by the searing dilemma of knowing whether they are male, or female?
Nairobi County was documented to be hosting the largest population of intersex individuals at 245 persons followed by Kiambu and Nakuru counties at 135 and 95 persons, respectively, according to the census report, Volume I. Tana River County has two intersex persons out of a population of 315,943, making it the county with the lowest number of individuals who exhibit genotype and phenotype ambiguity associated with the condition.
The stigma and degrading treatment of intersex individuals could have been a barrier in establishing their precise numerical presence in the country. Cultures and traditions that are averse to intersex traits recourse to infanticide hence the potentially huge difference between the census numbers and those counted at birth. Cosmetic surgeries and other forms of “normalizing” mutilations also contribute to attrition in the demographics of intersex persons.
What do you call intersex persons in your native language?
Intersex individuals do not show distinct characteristics of male or the female gender. Also called differences in sex development (DSD), disorders of sex development, variations in sex characteristics (VSC), or diverse sex development, intersex is a group of rare conditions involving genes, hormones and reproductive organs, including genitalia. The familiar albeit archaic word for the condition is hermaphrodite.
Heredity as the cause of DSDs has not been founded on pivotal scientific insight beyond speculation. However, typologies of DSD have been credibly articulated. For instance, doctors describe an unusually prominent clitoral hood vis-a-vis a virtually sealed vaginal opening as 46, XX DSD. Existence of XY (male) chromosomes characterized by genitalia that is neither distinctly male nor female is referred to as 46, XY DSD in medical parlance. Other multiple variants of DSD exist.
Childhood and the onset of teenage years are considered opportune for ascertaining DSDs. Physical examination, ultrasound and blood tests can be performed to determine DSD predisposition. Though some people resort to corrective surgery, or hormonal treatment and therapy, DSD is not a morbidity condition that requires treatment regimens beyond understanding, acceptance and social support. For clinical diagnosis, paediatric endocrinologist, or adolescent gynaecologists are preferred.
How comfortable are you with intersex persons?
Intersex individuals are often subjected to all forms of discrimination, denial and deprivation of rights. Many people perceive DSDs as abnormal, leading to withdraw of social support. Shaming and bullying of intersex children contribute to their dismal performance and retention in the learning process. As high as 60% of 132 intersex individuals traced by Gama Africa had prematurely terminated schooling due to maltreatment by peers. The integrity and bodily autonomy of intersex persons are equally susceptible to assumptions and violations in households.
Access to services is problematic for intersex persons due to planning that doesn’t take into cognizant their different needs. Reports of intersex persons being sexually assaulted in police confinement and other crowd containment measures that ignore sexual identity distinctions have been documented. During COVID-19, quarantine and isolation facilities for intersex individuals are imperative but remain non-existent.
Intersex children and adults may find it difficult to secure birth certificates. Their legal protection against non-consensual medical procedures and traumatic social exclusion is weak. Parents and community level institutions like churches still grope in the dark on integration and co-existence with intersex children and adults. Myths that define the condition as an aberration resident in curses are invoked to push them into oblivion where the thrust of their potential is rendered blunt.
A paradigm shift is timely!
Society, private and public, is obligated to bestow upon intersex people the fullest and richest interpretation of their humanity. Like racism, xenophobia, jingoism and all isms that negate the universality of human dignity and rights, exclusion of intersex persons is flawed and foul. In 2016,
the United Nations Human Rights Council deplored acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The census data is a human rights and development milestone in Kenya. What is not counted doesn’t count. We must now speedily and sustainably implement recommendations in the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report and proposals submitted by the Taskforce on Policy, Legal, Institutional and Administrative Reforms regarding Intersex Persons in Kenya. A legal definition of intersex, public education and reforms to guarantee protection under the law including participation in sport are paramount.
Political and public good will should be directed towards organisations like Intersex Persons Society of Kenya, among others. The space they occupy and the terrain of their work is challenging. Yet there is no civilisation that has progressed outside of the equality, liberty and fraternity of the people. The Constitution that affirms our aspirations must resonate with the dreams of intersex persons.
The writer is a Kenyan-based gender specialist