Intersex persons deserve justice, they’re Kenyans too

Intersex persons are people born in-between male and female. They therefore, don’t fall purely under the categorisations of being either male or female as we know it. These are not individuals who choose to be that way. The situation affects children and parents in a very fundamental manner since stigma and discrimination is high, starting from with the challenge of how to name a child with regards to sex.

It is important to note that many intersex persons continue to suffer in silence. However, this is bound to change since for the first time in the history of Kenya and Africa, they are going to be counted in the ongoing census.

My journey with intersex persons started in 2016, when someone by the name “accepted outcast” wrote to me on Twitter, appreciating my role as a champion for the rights of persons with disabilities. He explained to me his predicaments and I requested him to come see me so that we could talk. The following week, Mary Waithera also known as James Karanja together with Patrick, a grassroots community mobiliser came to my Parliament office as agreed. From the outset, I knew this matter wasn’t about disability, but sex. It was rather about the all too important and fundamental question of whether one is a man or a woman. You can imagine struggling with this very definitive form of identity. 

We immediately embarked on a mainstream media awareness campaign, followed by the drawing up of a petition to Parliament on “gender identity disorder.” At this point, even the terminology wasn’t clear as issues raised were legitimate but not well understood. The prayers sought to have them identified at birth, be counted and recognised in law. The petition faced resistance on the floor of the House. The matter was nevertheless referred to the National Assembly’s Committee on Administration and National Security by Speaker Justin Muturi. In the meantime, we contacted the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) to take up the matter especially with regards to the rights to hold an identity card, change name, and equal recognition before the law.

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The committee retreated to write a report which recommended among others; that intersex persons be counted in the upcoming census, that the government puts in place measures for public awareness and the need for legal reforms through various legislative amendments.

Following the report, then Attorney General Githu Muigai constituted a task force on intersex matters with KNCHR as the secretariat. The taskforce was to provide for inclusive measures or guidelines to ensure that intersex persons live a normal life. It is out of this process that the inclusion of the intersex question by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) became a reality. Self-representation is a very critical aspect of inclusion. While there were dissenting voices about the formation of a stand-alone intersex person’s organisation, primarily by LGBT, and some mainstream religious organisations, I held the opinion that it was necessary and important that intersex persons themselves develop a platform that they could use to advance their rights and self-advocacy. That is how I brought together James Karanja/Mary Waithera, Ruth Wangui/Rayan Muiruri and Kwamboka and inspired them to form the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya (IPSK) of which am the patron.

Advocacy role

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As expected, there was resistance to have the organisation registered by the Registrar of Societies and through several correspondences coupled with the intervention of the AG, this became a reality. IPSK, through its leaders James Karanja/Mary Waithera and Rayan Muiruri/Ruth Wangui have played a critical advocacy role in helping Kenyans to understand their plight, including the best way to mainstream them in society. At the Senate, I have introduced two Bills to amend the registrations of birth and death and Civil Registration Act in order to recognise them.

I therefore call upon all intersex persons and their families to come out, volunteer information and respond to the enumerator’s questions without fear or shame. This will enable the government and other stakeholders to have the requisite information for effective policy and planning purposes. Enumerators shouldn’t be shy to ask this question as well. Intersex persons are Kenyans too and it’s not just about those who we know, but also those that will born tomorrow; our children, grandchildren and generations to come. I also call upon them to register as members of IPSK in order to get support and directly benefit from the concerted efforts of various actors, state and non state, in restoring their human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms. Intersex persons must count.

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- The writer is a Nominated Senator and IPSK patron. Email: [email protected]

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