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Intersex people: discrimination and human rights violations need to be addressed

“We must raise awareness about the situation of intersex people, and act now to overcome the discrimination and human rights violations they routinely face,” said the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, speaking at a hearing of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination in Strasbourg on 28 January 2016.

Born with physical, hormonal or genetic characteristics that do not belong exclusively to either the male or the female sex – something that may be immediately apparent at birth, or only become so later in life – intersex people experience human rights violations in many aspects of their daily lives.

Intersex people are frequently subjected to irreversible and highly intrusive “corrective” surgery at a very young age, without having been able to give their informed consent, and despite the fact that such surgery is not medically necessary. Multiple operations and recovery periods may interrupt their schooling and reduce their life chances. Laws on gender recognition rarely take account of the situation of intersex people. Moreover, most antidiscrimination laws do not expressly cover discrimination on the grounds of sex characteristics, making claiming equal rights extremely difficult.

“Shame and ignorance about intersex bodies have allowed these inhumane practices to continue,” the Commissioner said. “It is time for European, national, civil society and medical actors to work together to turn this situation around.”