Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
Majority of intersex persons in Kenya suffer gross violations of basic human rights. This is according to James Karanja, founder and director of Intersex Persons Society of Kenya (IPSK).
Many continue to suffer from stigma, discrimination, mistreatment, violence and lack of recognition. Kenyan identification documents such as birth certificates and birth notifications have a marker for sex where one identifies as either male or female.
This means that the intersex fall in neither category. For the longest time, the intersex persons in Kenya have been ignored.
The organisation he founded in 2016 has been creating awareness about the intersex in the society and clamouring for respect for their rights. “Traditionally in Africa, intersex babies were killed. Today, there are still cases where intersex babies are killed by their parents through starvation,” he says.
Karanja, who also identifies himself as Mary Waithera, was born intersex 27 years ago. His parents raised him as a girl, to avoid the stigma of raising an intersex child.
Yet despite the expectation to behave like a girl, there was a long-standing battle about her identity as she felt more like a boy. Growing up, Karanja was subjected to ridicule, discrimination and abuse.
According to United Nations, 1.7 per cent of people worldwide have intersex traits. The Kenyan Peoples Deprived of their Liberty Act, 2014 defines intersex as a person certified by a competent medical practitioner to have both male and female reproductive organs.
For many parents and doctors, it is common practice to assign a certain sex to a child born with both male and female anatomy. In most cases, Karanja says, intersex children are raised as girls.
“The society is against raising a dysfunctional boy child, so many prefer to raise intersex children as girls. There is also better psychosocial support for girls,” adds Karanja. Intersex children are subjected to unwanted surgeries at birth, so that their bodies can fit the definition of either male or female.
In 2016, the then Nominated MP, Isaack Mwaura, filed a petition to the Parliamentary Committee on Administration and National Security seeking better treatment for people with disorders of sexual development. Initially, the issue was thought to be a disability, but laterit was identified as a sexual development disorder.
The committee recommended that the Ministry of Interior and Coordination take action to recognise intersex persons by adding an intersex marker on birth notifications and birth certificates.
Another recommendation was to have Kenya Bureau of Statistics and Health ministry provide statistics on the intersex persons by ensuring that such data is captured during national census and economic survey. According to Karanja, there are ongoing deliberations with KNBS to have the intersex persons statistics captured in the 2019 census.
Mwaura, now a nominated Senator and the patron of IPSK, says he is in the process of proposing amendments in Parliament to the Registrar of Births and Deaths Act and Registrar of Persons Act to recognise intersex. “We expect to have a substantive bill on intersex persons soon so that they can be fully recognised,” he says.