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National Statistical Office faulted on intersex citizens’ exclusion

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By Josephine Chinele:

CHAKA— We had all the time to prepare for it

The National Statistical Office (NSO) has been urged to orient enumerators conducting the Population and Housing Census on the need to respect the rights of intersex people.

But NSO has justified its decision, saying it follows United Nations (UN) principles.

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Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJ) has made the call following reports that census enumerators are forcing intersex people to declare themselves as either male or female.

“Let’s stop living a lie. There are intersex citizens in our communities and they need to be accorded the respect they deserve as is the case with any other citizen,” said CSJ Executive Director, Brian Ligomeka.

He said people should not be forced to declare themselves male or female when they do not fit into such sex categories.

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“What National Statistical Office would have done was to provide for at least three categories of male, female and intersex or other. The intersex or other category would have taken care of the intersex people who are born with a combination of male and female biological characteristics that can make it difficult to assign their sex as distinctly male or female,” he said.

Ligomeka said the government, through its agencies, has an obligation to address challenges intersex citizens face.

“Intersex people experience prejudice and discrimination because their bodies do not conform to other people’s expectations about sex and gender. They need full protection from the government so that they can enjoy all human rights as is the case with every citizen,” he said.

Intersex people are born with biological characteristics of both male and female but NSO’s questionnaire ignores this group of citizens.

People’s Federation for National Peace and Development Executive Director, Edward Chaka, concurred with Ligomeka, saying “national development initiatives should be inclusive”.

Chaka said a census is a national event that embraces diversity, hence some sectors of society should not be seen to be deliberately excluded from issues that impact their lives.

“In terms of the Population and Housing Census, we had all the time to prepare for it. During that time, we should have incorporated all groups of people in this important exercise so that everyone could feel involved in the process. Moving forward, I hope we will learn from mistakes we have committed so that, moving forward, we should be seen to be considerate of other people’s needs,” Chaka said.

However, NSO spokesperson, Kingsley Manda, said the office follows principles and recommendations of the UN 2020 round of Censuses.

“Sex is as reported and currently the available sexes for data collection and analysis are male and female,” he said.

He, however, said NSO would be conducting Malawi Biological and Behaviour Survey in October, when hidden populations like transgender people will be targeted.

“[As] part of it, we do formative study to give us the number of each hidden sub-population… we receive a lot of inquiries on hidden population and NGOs [non-governmental organisations] have been conducting studies but in specific areas,” Manda said.

He said NSO has conducted surveys like these before, just that previous ones did not include sub populations such as those of transgender people.

“It will be funded by the Global Fund,” Manda said.

Finance and Economic Planning Minister, Goodall Gondwe, recently said results of the 2018 census would inform planning for the country’s development agenda.

He urged Malawians to aim at having smaller and manageable families to slow down population growth.

“The last census for Malawi was in 2008 [and], 10 years down the line, Malawi has yet another opportunity to ensure that its development needs are accounted for through the census,” Gondwe said.

The 2018 census is guided by the theme ‘Be Counted -Leave No One Behind’.

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