Govt urged to recognise, research on intersex community

By Kenneth Matimaire

There are growing calls for government to recognise the existence of intersex persons and need for research to guide on the realities of the “hidden” community.

Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions, in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside.

Several such cases have been recorded in the country.

Owing to lack of information to guide parents of intersex children, many sort “corrective” medical procedures and surgeries for their children, which brews challenges when they grow up.

Intersex Community of Zimbabwe (ICoZ) said the long road to attain rights of the intersex community starts by getting recognition from government.

“It has to start with the government itself, by acknowledging the existence of intersex people in Zimbabwe and to stop trying to erase intersex people by either traditional, cultural or medical means, to give intersex people a platform to speak out in order to educate and inform our Zimbabwean society on realities of intersex people in Zimbabwe, to help raise an awareness on intersex issues and to include and consider of intersex people in everything including law and policies crafting and reforming,” ICoZ director Ronie Zuze.

Zuze who was born intersex uses the pronouns them, they and their.

ICoZ has close to 20 members including young intersex individuals.

Zuze lamented that the biggest challenge is that of access to information on intersex in terms of population and research since “even researchers themselves have limited or no information on the subject itself since it is hardly talked about.”

They said most people tend to shy away from the subject while families tend to keep the matter a secret to the outside world as it is viewed as a shameful thing.

This, according to Zuze, gives the medical fraternity the power to recommend erasure of intersex people by recommending “corrective” medical procedures and surgeries to the families of intersex babies.

“Therefore, as intersex people grow up, they grow up understanding and believing that it is shameful to be who they are created as (being different) hence they are too embarrassed and shameful to come out and speak out proudly as intersex people.

“This then makes it very difficult for society to know and have the correct information which aids in understanding intersex people in Zimbabwe, since this is how we intersex people are brought up to view ourselves,” they said.

ICoZ directors pointed out that many researchers end up misreading intersex issues with those of transgender people as they do not find the population to work with when they embark on research.

“I think if researchers could try reaching out to the few intersex activists in Zimbabwe (who in most cases are not given a voice) and try working with them closely on their researches in order for them to derive the correct information and first hand experiences. This will help to establish more comprehensive research that is not distorted, since these intersex activists are aware of their own “hidden” communities in Zimbabwe,” said Zuze.

Intersex Community Trust of Zimbabwe (ICTZ) director Tsitsi Ndabambi shared the same sentiments and amplified the need of adequate information on intersex.

“There is no adequate information. Some of the people don’t even know that they are intersex. The information is not readily available in Zimbabwe. If it was, then people would know what to do and the appropriate action to take.

“The only place you can only find adequate information is on Google. Our teams (associations) are the only imparting such information. I’m not happy with the information that is currently there because we are still gathering it. We only speak to the experiences that we had and through forums we attend internationally. Otherwise there is nothing,” said Ndabambi.

The ICTZ director indicated that there is need for research to ascertain the national population of intersex persons, funding for medical assistance, food relief and counselling to parents of intersex children.