THE FIRST IN AFRICA

Efforts that led to intersex census counting

There are 1,524 intersex persons in the country, across all the 47 counties

In Summary

• It all started when a Twitter user, Accepted Outcast, tweeted nominated senator Isaac Mwaura to the effect that he should fight on their behalf, as he does for other marginalised groups.

• Mwaura got so passionate about the issue in the corridors of Parliament that his colleagues would chide him as an intersex. 

Sharon Ngeru (R) confers with another intersex person during a meeting to support Intersex bill in the Senate on October 24
STILL FACE STIGMA: Sharon Ngeru (R) confers with another intersex person during a meeting to support Intersex bill in the Senate on October 24
Image: WILFRED NYANGERESI

The census results released in November indicated there are 1,524 intersex persons in the country, across all the 47 counties.

But the push to have the minority group included in the census involved intrigues with top-notch decision makers dismissing them as strange and that they did not exist.

Jubilee nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura, who brought the discussion of the minority group to the fore in the run-up to the once-in-a-decade exercise, revealed to the Star that decision-makers, including MPs and a constitutional commission, laughed off the issue as irrelevant. 

Speaking to the Star in an interview, Mwaura said the challenges people whose gender is between male and female came to his attention in 2016 through a "depressing tweet".

"It was a Saturday evening in 2016 after appearing in a show on Radio Jambo, when I received a tweet from one named 'Accepted Outcast'," he said. 

The Twitter user's message to the senator was to the effect that he should fight on their behalf, as he does for other marginalised groups.

Mwaura would then seek to meet the 'Accepted Outcast', whose real name is Mary Waithera aka James Karanja, in his office.

This was the inception of a flurry of activities that eventually culminated into the inclusion of intersex as the third sex marker in the census enumeration forms.

Consequently, Kenya became the first African country to recognise intersex people in its census.

"After the meeting, we drew a petition to Parliament, detailing the challenges this stigmatised group lives through and that they are extremely marginalised," he said. 

Hitherto, he said, no one dared to speak for the intersex people's daily battles, identity crisis and their living in hiding because of shame. 

In fact, he said, he got so passionate about the issue in the corridors of Parliament that his colleagues would chide him as an intersex. 

"I remember people like [leader of Majority Aden] Duale dismissed me as one of the intersexes and that those people do not exist," he said. 

Besides the petition, the senator also writo to the National Gender and Equality Commission about the issue, but to his disappointment, the commission "laughed it off."

"I then wrote to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, who accepted to take up the matter. We also started a number of activities that addressed legal issues that affected the group," he said. 

The petition to Parliament, as the norm, got redirected to the Committee of the House whose report recommended that the Attorney General forms a task force to address the issues the intersex were suffering from.

The task force chaired by Mbage Ng'ang'a, who was from the Kenya Law Reform Commission, released its report early in the year, recommending a headcount to determine the exact number of intersex persons. 

"With this, we started engaging the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to design the enumeration forms with the letter I to include the intersex as a third gender," he said. 

"I would attend countless KNBS workshops as a technical person to participate in designing the forms and also push for the adoption of the Washington group of questions in addressing the disability question," Mwaura said.

This is a set of six questions designed to be used in a census or survey, to identify the risk of restriction due to functional difficulties.

Besides, the initiative, the senator worked to bring together the intersex people to form a group — the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya —to enable them push for an agenda on their own. 

"The struggle of these people are on a daily basis. They still want to figure out who they are and win their self-confidence. It has been a long journey," he said. 

Mwaura said the count was a huge milestone as it has brought the intersex persons to the table of decision-making