Intersex groups slam World Health Organisation in joint statement


intersex human rights australia world health organisation
Photo: IHRA

More than 50 intersex groups worldwide have signed a joint statement criticising the World Health Organisation for classifying intersex variations as “disorders of sex development”.

The WHO uses the language and also promotes surgery on intersex individuals in its International Classification of Diseases 11 (ICD-11), the groups say.

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“[We] welcome moves by the WHO that continue a trend to depathologise sexual and gender minorities in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11),” the statement reads.

“We express our deepest regret that the ICD-11 reverses this trend in relation to people born with variations of sex characteristics – intersex people.”

The groups warn the classification will cause continuing harm to people born with variations of sex characteristics.

“The ICD-11 introduces normative language to describe intersex variations as ‘disorders of sex development’,” the statement reads.

“Some current materials in the ICD-11 are [also] associated with unnecessary medical procedures that fail to meet human rights norms.

“Such interventions are grounded in gender stereotypes.

“When performed on individuals without their personal informed consent, human rights defenders and institutions have found these interventions to be harmful practices and violations of rights to bodily integrity, non-discrimination, equality before the law, privacy, and freedom from torture, ill-treatment, and experimentation.”

Intersex people undergo irreversible and unnecessary surgeries

Intersex people are born with characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of “male” or “female”, and variations in intersex people can include chromosomes, hormones and anatomy.

Close to two percent of the population is born with intersex traits – similar to the number of people born with red hair – but intersex infants often undergo irreversible and unnecessary surgeries that can cause sterilisation, health issues and psychological harm.

Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) is one of the signatories to the statement. Morgan Carpenter from IHRA is in Geneva, Switzerland for the World Health Organisation assembly which will approve the ICD-11.

Carpenter said he was “dismayed” that the ICD-11 will “introduce a controversial language of ‘disorders of sex development’ into the ICD which we know promotes ideas that intersex bodies need to be ‘fixed’.”

“The ICD-11 Foundation contains information that requires early surgery based on technical rationales, heteronormative ideas and gender stereotypes, and that support genetic deselection as an alternative to early surgery,” Carpenter said.

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“These ideas, including that it is ‘easier to make a hole than build a pole’, have long been discredited, and they violate human rights – including the right to bodily integrity, freedom from harmful practices, ill-treatment and discrimination, and the right to privacy.”

In April, a group of intersex Australians appeared on an episode of the ABC’s You Can’t Ask That program to answer questions from the public about their lives and what it means to have an intersex variation.

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