Task force recommends Kenya recognise intersex persons as third sex

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A special task force set up by the Kenyan government has recommended that the East African nation recognises intersex persons as a third sex. The landmark recommendations follow years of lobbying by intersex persons who have faced ridicule and stigmatisation.

The task force has also asked the government to ensure that the intersex persons are counted during the country’s national census due in August.

Intersex individuals are born with sex characteristics such as genitals or chromosomes that do not fit the typical definitions of male or female.

28-year-old Ryan Muiruri, walks into his office just after 9 a.m. ready to begin his day. His job involves advocating for other people like him. His mother named him Ruth and he remained that way for several years. Even now his legal documents recognise him as such.

Muiruri says that the law recognises him as female.

“Law recognizes me as female and that’s why by the time that I was fighting for my space, I am going to fight for our space.”

Muiruri is intersex. When he was born, his father took off, terming his condition as a bad omen. His story is replicated over and over.

James Karanja, Representative for the Intersex Persons of Kenya, says that he has been socially characterised as female.

“I was born an intersex person. My parents and the doctors could not tell who I was. So, with the benefit of doubt, they decided to bring me up as a girl. I have been socialised for as long as I can remember as a girl and one good thing that happened to me, the priest did not baptise me because I was a hermaphrodite. So, they did not know the way forward.”

Because they could not fit the usual definition of female or male; stigma, ridicule and rejection followed them through puberty and with it, attempts to commit suicide.

Ryan is lucky to be alive. Many like him do not live to adulthood.

“Some intersex people are killed at that stage because some parents want to retain their marriage, their dignity because they feel like, ‘how am I going to tell society that my child is neither a boy or girl?’”

Their plight finally got to the ears of authorities who formed a task force to see how to come up with laws on how to treat intersex persons. The report of the task force was released in Nairobi last week. It has a raft of recommendations including the recognition of intersex persons.

Jedidah Wakonyo, Commissioner of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, says that they do not have an opportunity to recognise a sex as intersex.

“We do not have an opportunity to record a sex as intersex. That is where the challenge begins and that is where the recognition needs to move towards and that… it is the recognition of the task force that we have a third sex known as intersex.”

“There is also a recommendation on the documentation such that our legal framework is amended to ensure easier ways of intersex people accessing documentation,” Chairperson of the Task force on Intersex Persons, Mbage Ng’ang’a said.

Muiruri says that they are trying to see how implementation can happen as fast as possible.

“We are trying to see how implementation can happen as fast as possible because the longer it stays; the more intersex persons continue to suffer.”

The task force identified 300 intersex persons, but the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights estimates that there may be as many as 1 440 000 intersex persons in Kenya going by United Nations estimates of between 1.7% to 3% of intersex persons worldwide.