Intersex people's human rights: ILGA World issues global research into legal protections for people born with variations in sex characteristics

 

EDIT:  The article has been amended to reflect that data in the report covers until July 2023,
and not until December 2022


Geneva, 12 December 2023
A large majority of UN member States have yet to make any sufficient legal attempt to protect intersex people’s right to bodily integrity and autonomy. Still, a trend of positive developments is emerging, ILGA World said today. 

The organisation released the first edition of its Intersex Legal Mapping Report, a ground-breaking global survey on legal protections for people born with variations in sex characteristics. The publication features an overview of how each of the 193 UN member States is faring regarding the protection of the human rights of intersex people, profiles of the 34 countries in which legal developments have taken place, and an analysis of how intersex issues have been addressed in international human rights law. In addition, it also features interviews with intersex activists, providing unique insights into their advocacy work.

 


Follow this link to download the Intersex Legal Mapping Report 
in English | in Spanish
(available soon)


 

Intersex people are born with variations of sex characteristics (such as genitals, reproductive organs, hormonal and 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 stigmatised and subject to harmful practices – including in medical settings - and discriminated against.

“As of July 2023, only six UN member States adopted laws prohibiting unnecessary medical treatments, surgeries, and other interventions modifying the sex characteristics of intersex minors without their free, prior, and fully informed consent,” said Crystal Hendricks, Chair of ILGA World’s Intersex Committee. “This striking dearth of legal protection is still a reality despite the unanimous, systematic, and urgent calls of intersex civil society and international human rights bodies. And yet, current positive trends give us reasons for hope.” 

ILGA World’s Intersex Legal Mapping Report documents how the past fifteen years have seen a rapid increase in legal developments emerging to improve the situation of intersex individuals. As of July 2023, seven UN Member States had introduced national legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex characteristics; five States adopted legal provisions on liability for offences committed on the same grounds; and seven introduced other legal norms aiming to improve intersex people’s equal enjoyment of their human rights. In addition, there is a growing number of national and subnational legal developments aimed at addressing the needs of the intersex community.

International human rights law is also playing its part,” added Ilia Savelev, co-author of the Intersex Legal Mapping Report. “Since 2009, intergovernmental organisations’ responses have evolved from indecisive suggestions to urgent and confident calls to legally prohibit and ensure accountability for non-consensual medical interventions on intersex minors.”

The image has text reading: “Main Findings. 1. There is a striking dearth of legal protections of intersex people's rights to bodily autonomy and integrity in the world. 2. There is an emerging trend towards adopting legal protections from discrimination against intersex people, most notably on the grounds of sex characteristics. 3. There is a growing number of national and subnational legal developments aimed to address the needs of the intersex community. 4. There is an ongoing evolution of legal norms aimed at protecting intersex people's rights."

 

During the latest United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2023, for example, Finland, Chile, South Africa, and Australia led a group of 56 States from all regions of the world in a resounding call to “increase efforts to combat violence, harmful practices and discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics”. On the same occasion, civil society organisations called for a UN resolution, which could lead to an official United Nations report on the matter: this would be an absolute first and raise awareness of intersex issues in a way that States could no longer ignore.

Civil society has indeed played a fundamental role in advancing the human rights of intersex people. “All the advancement obtained during these years are a testament to their relentless work,” said ILGA World co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown. “Activists have long decried violations to intersex persons’ right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and self-determination. But we know that these issues are not faced by intersex people alone: to different extents, these issues are also extremely relevant when it comes to gender equality and sexuality, but also disability, sexual and reproductive health and rights, or sex work. At a time when the policing of bodies has become a staple in the wider anti-rights agenda, cross-movement solidarity has never been more important. We hope that tools like the Intersex Legal Mapping Report will catalyse continued progress and change – not just for the intersex community, but for all of us.” 

 


Follow this link to download the Intersex Legal Mapping Report 
in English | in Spanish
(available soon)


 

Key figures (as of July 2023)

The data listed here and in the report refer to the situation as of July 2023. For more updates about legal frameworks restricting interventions on intersex minors, visit the ILGA World Database at https://database.ilga.org/interventions-intersex-minors

  • 6 UN Member States have laws prohibiting unnecessary medical interventions to modify the sex characteristics of intersex minors without their free, prior, and fully informed consent: Germany, Greece, Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain. Only two UN Member States - Greece and Malta – introduced specific sanctions for violating these prohibitions
  • 181 (94% of) UN Member States haven’t yet made any sufficient legal attempt to protect intersex people’s right to bodily integrity and autonomy
  • 7 UN member States have introduced national legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex characteristics: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Malta, Portugal, Spain, and Serbia
  • 8 UN member States adopted legislation aimed to protect intersex people from discrimination on other grounds - Australia, Belgium, Finland, India, Montenegro, the Netherlands, and South Africa
  • 5 UN member States have adopted legal provisions on liability for offences committed on the grounds of sex characteristics: Denmark, Greece, Iceland, Spain, and Malta
  • 7 UN Member States introduced other legal norms aiming to improve intersex people’s equal enjoyment of their human rights: Andorra, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Iceland, Kenya, and the United States
  • ILGA World has identified subnational laws and regulations that include provisions concerning intersex people’s right to bodily integrity and equal enjoyment of their human rights in Australia, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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