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Intersex group lacks voice

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Malawi joined the rest of the world last month to commemorate Human Rights Day. The day was commemorated under the slogan “Stand Up for Someone’s Rights Today”. The commemoration preceded 16 days of activism to condemn any forms of violence, especially against women and children.

The 16 days of activism failed to meet the tenets of inclusivity because of its focus on women and children forgetting the other equally marginalised people such as people with albinism and intersex people who equally need to be protected.

So the billion dollar question is: Have you stood up for someone’s rights today? Or how many rights have you upheld during the 16 days and beyond?

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Although the focus is on women and children, there are untold stories of some marginalised groups whose rights need to be protected and uplifted.

Christians will attest to what the Bible says that in the beginning God created a man and a woman, clearly showing male and female division in all creatures reproducing sexually. But what if someone is born with both male and female anatomy, what will be the division? Should they not enjoy human rights?

Such condition is called intersex, 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. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in between the usual male and female types.

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These people in Malawi live in constant fear as their conditions are regarded a bad omen to their families. These people fail to enjoy their human rights on the basis that they have both sexes. Stigma and discrimination against intersex people starts right on their birthday.

This is evidenced in the story of an 11-year intersex, Chifundo from Salima who was born with the condition. Chifundo’s parents were advised by elders and custodians of their culture to have Chifundo killed when he was born.

Chifundo’s parents say: “Some elder women related to us suggested killing the baby because the birth of Chifundo was a bad omen to the family. They claimed that if the baby was allowed to live, he will eventually become a witch and destroy the clan,”

However, Chifundo’s parents refused to destroy the innocent precious life but rather agreed that Chifundo will be a girl and gave her a feminine name, dressed him in girly outfits and even plaited his hair.

Nature had something in stock. At puberty stage, the male organs became more prevalent than those of a female in Chifundo, convincing the boy-once-girl, that he was a boy.

Chifundo’s parents say: “One morning he said ‘I am a boy’. From that time, he rejected everything feminine. He started preoccupying himself with stereotypical boyish activities.”

The declaration brought even new challenges to Chifundo. How would he change the perceptions of his society who have always associated him with female gender roles?

This was the beginning of yet another discrimination and stigma towards him. Chifundo increasingly faced discrimination and undue attention within his community and at school.

“In 2015, I was forced to drop out of school because my classmates had become increasingly inquisitive about my gender identity,” Chifundo says.

He says he was confronted by people who could forcibly undress him to confirm his sex in the company of his friends

“I was devastated emotionally and psychologically. I refused to eat for days and had been crying and could not imagine facing my friends again, as such I remained indoors,” he says.

Reacting to this, Reverend Pastor Nicky Chakwera, youth and music pastor at Malawi Assemblies of God, and organiser of the citizen march, says undressing any person without their consent is wrong.

“Any kind of bullying or discrimination based on physical or biological status of a person is already recognised as bad. So, of course, as a church, we condemn in the strongest terms any violations of people’s dignity and rights because of their physical condition,” Chakwera says.

He says associating this very rare condition with witchcraft is clearly lack of understanding of this condition.

“As the church, we do not promote superstition and give Satan too much powers. We understand this present world and nature as imperfect because it was subjected to a curse. So disorders and disabilities are to be expected and such are recognised not as the original design and plan. For example, if one is born blind, it cannot be proof that blindness was the design and plan for humans,” he says.

Chakwera, however, says the existence of intersex people cannot be used to prove “gender ideology” that attacks nature itself by claiming ‘male and female’ are just social constructs. He further says intersex is a physical and biological condition requiring correctiveness.

Chakwera says: “Usually, intersex people are not pushing to remain ‘intersex’ but according to dominant traits. The intersex condition is universally recognised as a disorder needing corrective not cooperative measures.”

He says it is not morally wrong if an intersex who grew up as a girl but becomes a boy through some corrective process marries another girl although it may cause surprise or social apprehension.

He says this is not the same as saying an ‘intersex’ person must be able to marry both a woman and a man at the same time because they have both male and female parts.

“What would a ‘right to marry’ of an intersex person look like? It certainly cannot be the right to marry a man for the female side and also marrying a woman for the male side. That’s why intersex condition is an exception we cannot make rules from,” he says.

He says there is need for a holistic support from the church in assisting ‘intersex’ people. He says they certainly could benefit from psycho-social and spiritual support that a church community can give, adding that the church will do more to bring genuine help and assistance to families who have such cases.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission confirmed that it will conduct a public inquiry on minority issues in the country following a request from minority rights activists.

The commission convened an extraordinary commissioners meeting to consider the legality of the request.

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