Press Release: Intersex Awareness Day

October 26th.  Intersex Awareness Day is a day to highlight the human rights issues faced by intersex people, to raise awareness of the unwanted cosmetic medical procedures intersex infants and children are often forced to go through, and to end the shame and secrecy surrounding being intersex. This date marks the anniversary of the Intersex Society of North America’s (ISNA) protest against the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1996.[1]

“Intersex” is an umbrella term used for a wide range of natural bodily variations in which a person is born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not seem to fit the typical binary definitions of female or male. As a result, intersex people face stigma and discrimination. Although some of these traits may be apparent from birth, sometimes a person is found to have intersex anatomy during puberty, or when they approach a medical center for infertility as an adult or never find out at all. [1,2]

As stated in the United Nations Free & Equal Fact Sheet on Intersex issues, it has become common practice to subject intersex children to unnecessary surgical and other procedures for the purpose of trying to make their appearance conform to binary sex stereotypes. These often irreversible procedures can cause permanent infertility, pain, incontinence, loss of sexual sensation, and lifelong mental suffering, including depression. Regularly performed without the full, free and informed consent of the person concerned, who are frequently too young to be part of the decision-making, these procedures may violate their rights to physical integrity, to be free from torture and ill-treatment, and to live free from harmful practices. [3]

At the Third International Intersex Forum in 2013, which was [4] supported by ILGA, 34 activists representing 30 intersex organisations from all around the world, gathered to issue the Malta declaration, a joint statement extending demands and a call upon international, regional and national human rights institutions to take on board, and provide visibility to intersex issues in their work and human rights organisations to contribute to build bridges with intersex organisations and build a basis for mutual support.

As stated above, since the persons concerned are often too young to give a full and free consent to the procedures performed, healthcare professionals are important and powerful stakeholders in the health and well-being of intersex people.

In our Policy Document on Sexuality and Gender Identity [5], among other items, IFMSA calls upon organizations, universities, and countries to take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures:

  • To ensure that all persons have access to health care facilities, goods, and services, including in relation to sexual and reproductive health, and to their own medical records, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • To ensure that everyone has full access to updated information on how to preserve their sexual and reproductive health and rights;
  • To ensure full protection against harmful medical practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including on the basis of stereotypes regarding conduct, physical appearance or perceived gender norms;
  • To ensure that no child’s body is irreversibly altered by medical procedures in an attempt to impose a gender identity without the full, free and informed consent of the child in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

Although not implicitly stated, our call, and specifically these items, are in line with the Malta Declaration and they encompass the sexual and reproductive health and rights of intersex people as well. In 2016, IFMSA published a booklet titled “Building an Inclusive and Evidence-Based Medical Curriculum for LGBTQ+ Health” [6], officially endorsed by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). We would like to take a step in the right direction, in providing ethical and respectful healthcare, and to be mindful of the unique difficulties faced by intersex people. We have reached out to a number of intersex rights associations and we are looking forward to collaborations on this important although often neglected topic.

As the IFMSA, we believe in the attainment of human rights for all individuals. We acknowledge our role as future health care providers, and we aim to educate, engage and call the relevant parties to action to bring forth positive change.




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