CENSUS 2019

Why intersex persons must count and be counted

They are Kenyans too and it’s not just about those whom we know, but also those who will be born tomorrow

In Summary

• Many intersex persons continue to suffer in silence but this is bound to change since, for the first time in the history of Kenya and Africa, they will be counted in this census.

• All intersex persons and their families should come out, volunteer information and respond to the enumerator’s questions without fear or shame.

Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura leads a march to Parliament to celebrate the International Day of the Intersex Child for the first time in Kenya, on October 26, 2016.
EVERYONE COUNTS: Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura leads a march to Parliament to celebrate the International Day of the Intersex Child for the first time in Kenya, on October 26, 2016.
Image: FILE

Intersex persons are individuals born with any of a number of sex characteristics and are in between male and female.

They, therefore, don’t fall purely under the categories of either male or female, as we know it. The situation affects children and parents in a very fundamental manner since stigma and discrimination are quite high, starting from with the challenge of how to name a child in 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 will be counted in this census.

My journey with intersex persons started in early 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 he come see me so that we could talk. The following week, Mary Waithera, also known as James Karanja, together with Patrick, a grassroots community mobilizer, came to my Parliamentary 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 a lot of resistance on the floor of the House, from none other than the Leader of Majority Aden Duale, who questioned whether such people existed.

The matter was nevertheless referred to the National Assembly’s Committee on Administration and National Security by Speaker Justin Muturi.

We also contacted the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to take up the matter, especially with regards to the rights to hold an identity card, change one's name, enjoy equal recognition before the law.

 

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

Based on this report, then Attorney General Prof Githu Muigai constituted a task force on Intersex matters with KNCHR as the secretariat. The task force was to provide for inclusive measures/guidelines to ensure 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 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 institutions, I opined that it was necessary and important that intersex persons themselves develop a platform 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 I serve as the patron.

As expected, there was resistance to have the organisation registered by the Registrar of Societies but through several correspondences coupled with the intervention of the AG, this became a reality.

IPSK has played a critical advocacy role in helping Kenyans to understand their plight, including the best way to mainstream them in society. In the Senate, I have introduced two bills to amend the registrations of birth and death and the Civil Registration Act 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 who will be born tomorrow; our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

I also call upon them to register as members of IPSK for them to get support and directly benefit from the concerted efforts of various actors, both state and non state in restoring their human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms.

Intersex persons must count.

Mwaura is senator for Persons With Disabilities and Patron, IPSK

Email - [email protected]

Twitter - @mwauraIsaac1