Isaac Mwaura, a Kenyan member of parliament, has asked his fellow lawmakers to consider a bill recognizing people who may identify as intersex and accepting them as a third gender.
The Intersex Society of North America says the term “intersex” describes a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t 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.
According to the BBC, Mwaura is urging parliament to pass laws providing government funding and support for intersex citizens who wish to undergo gender re-assignment surgery and also seeking a public awareness campaign to end the discrimination and stigma suffered by intersex people.
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The condition of being intersex is a rare and mostly uncommon one with many intersex people preferring not to speak about it in order to avoid the unnecessary and mostly negative attention that would come with it. Kenyan society, like many parts of Africa, often has a prejudiced mindset, regarding people with rare and uncommon conditions, due to ignorance and long-held cultural beliefs.
As with albinism or dwarfism, many Africans believe those people to be carrying a curse or suffering the punishment of a sin committed by someone in their lineage.
For example, James Karanja, an intersex, recently said that his rare condition has greatly impacted his life in a negative way, with many in his community considering him a bad omen and avoiding him altogether. Although Karanja was assigned the female gender at birth, he wishes to identify as male and is now currently undergoing an expensive gender reassignment surgery to become one.
South African Olympic middle distance champion Caster Semenya is perhaps the most widely known case of an intersex person on the African continent, and without much surprise, the “confusion” about her gender has thrust her in to controversy after controversy.
Her gold medal win at the Rio Olympics placed her further in the eye of the storm, after her fellow competitors at the Olympic Games were dismissive of her achievements and accused her of being a man, perhaps demonstrating that the ignorance people have about what it means to be intersex isn’t only common with some Africans.