Being intersex probably has the most far-reaching gender-related impact on a person – yet is least spoken about amongst human rights activists focused on gender identity and sexual orientation.

With a R10,000 grant from the Other Foundation, Skipper Mogapi explored the attitudes, beliefs, knowledge gaps, and secrecy that surrounds intersex issues in Botswana. Engaging with healthcare providers and intersex people, Skipper tried to unpack the stigma, discrimination and psychological trauma suffered by intersex people and their parents.

His research reflected on participants’ responses against the broad social expectation that individuals are either male or female and that there are only two sexes and two genders that populate the world – rather than intersex being a natural variant that is part of human diversity.

“I heard stories of powerlessness, violation, reclamation and personal empowerment,” says Skipper. “Interview after interview, participants shared stories of feeling scrutinized and sexualized by medical professionals; of being treated as oddities and freaks; of lacking control over their own bodies and of the resulting shame and secrecy of such experiences,” he says.

Likening infant sex assignment surgery to female genital mutilation, Skipper affirms that the human rights of children enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child are particularly relevant to the practice of genital surgery on intersex infants.

Relating six case studies of intersex people in Botswana, the research concludes that an educational initiative is needed to inform medical professionals and parents about intersex issues. The research also recommends the introduction of clear regulations that require informed consent from parents before any surgery is done on intersex infants.
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