Intersex people are born with variations of sex characteristics (such as genitals, reproductive organs, hormonal and/or chromosomal patterns) that are more diverse than stereotypical definitions of male or female bodies. Up to 1.7% of the global population is born with such traits; yet, because their bodies are seen as different, intersex children and adults are often stigmatized and subject to harmful practices – including in medical settings - and discriminated against.
“Intersex persons continue to face discrimination in many areas of life,” Austria told the Human Rights Council today on behalf of 53 States, “particularly in education, healthcare, employment, social security, sports, places of detention and access to public services.”
“There is a need to take measures to protect the autonomy of intersex children and adults and their rights to health and to physical and mental integrity, so that they live free from violence and harmful practices.”
These words mark another milestone for the intersex human rights movement. For years, civil society has worked to make sure that States could listen to the voices of people with diverse sex characteristics and recognise the historic injustices that this population keeps facing every day.
Their tireless advocacy has prompted more and more States to speak up. In 2019, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for an end to discrimination of women and girls in sports, including women born with variations of sex characteristics: this was the first HRC resolution to specifically include the rights of intersex persons.
Then, in October 2020, 37 States took the lead and addressed intersex human rights violations - a first at the UN Human Rights Council. In July 2021, the same forum saw the African Group of States using unequivocal words to assert that “segregating women on the basis of intersex variations had the same effect as apartheid,” and calling for an end of this practice in the field of sports.
Civil society from across the world has also spoken today at the UN Human Rights Council: 76 organisations welcomed the recent initiatives by States, but encouraged them to do more.
“Discrimination, stigmatization, violence, harmful practices in medical settings, and several other human rights violations continue to occur around the world for people born with diverse sex characteristics. Actions have to follow those statements,” their statement read.
"States need to take strong and urgent action to uphold their obligation to ensure that intersex people live free from all types of violence and harmful practices, including in medical settings. Irreversible medical interventions (such as genital surgeries, hormonal interventions, and medical procedures intended to modify the sex characteristics of infants and children without their full, prior, and informed consent) continue to be the rule - not the exception - in the majority of UN member States.”
“Unless immediate action is taken, severe human rights violations against intersex people will prevail and continue. This Council needs to send a strong message that such practices are in violation of international human rights norms, and must not be tolerated”.
The number of countries joining the statement may still vary due to additional signatories. Please check the latest updates here