INTERVIEW - In a first for Africa, Kenya census to count intersex people

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 20 August 2019 17:36 GMT

An LGBT activist arrives for the ruling on whether to uphold or nullify law banning gay sex, outside the Milimani high Court in Nairobi, Kenya May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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The census will help end stigma and recognise the rights of intersex people who face challenges in accessing healthcare and education, said Kenya's Senator for Persons with Disabilities

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, Aug 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya will become the first African country to recognise its intersex population in a census on Saturday that counts people born with a sexual anatomy that does not fit typical definitions for male or female bodies, according to a top official.

The census will help end stigma and recognise the rights of intersex people who face challenges in accessing healthcare and education, said Kenya's Senator for Persons with Disabilities Isaac Mwaura.

"We have no numbers - yet we know this is a highly stigmatised issue. It is very germane that intersex persons are going to be counted for the first time in this country," Mwaura told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Tuesday.

As many as 1.7 percent of all children are born intersex - with reproductive organs, genitals, hormones or chromosomes that do not fit the usual expectations of male and female, according to the United Nations.

They often undergo surgery to make the appearance and function of their genitalia more closely resemble that expected of males or females, which research suggests can lead to psychological damage later in life.

In Kenya, parents often rush to have surgery performed on their children at a young age to avoid ridicule. Many intersex adults say their lives have been scarred by such operations.

Intersex children have been shunned by their families and bullied at school and adults have struggled to get jobs and faced physical abuse, say intersex rights campaigners.

RECOGNITION LAW

Mwaura is pushing for a law that would allow intersex Kenyans to change their sex on their national ID cards and to include 'intersex' on birth and death certificates.

"We want to deconstruct that mindset where people have been really fixated around the binary separation between a male and a female," said Mwaura, who is also patron of the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya.

Mwaura said he expected opposition to the bill because many lawmakers associate intersex people with homosexuality which is outlawed in the east African nation of almost 50 million people.

The bill, due before Kenya's parliament in September, has the support of President Uhuru Kenyatta, he added.

Some campaigners said registering people as intersex in a census could be challenging because many intersex people identify either as male or female.

Other countries that have included sex and gender categories in censuses have struggled to get correct data, said Tony Briffa, Chair of the ILGA World Intersex Committee, a rights group.

Australia's 2016 census, for example, identified a total of 40 intersex people - despite an estimated population of 420,000.

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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