Intersex persons have equal rights
As tradition will have it, the lovebirds went naked the wedding night and started their honeymoon with great joy in a calm atmosphere.
Barely two hours of pleasure and love making, Aku’s husband covered himself and left the bedroom to the washroom, still under the cover of darkness.
For two weeks, Joe, Aku’s husband would only make love to her in the dark.
Out of curiosity, Aku spied on Joe at dawn whilst he was taking a shower and uncovered that her husband was an intersex – having both male and female genitalia.
Aku felt betrayed and immediately demanded a divorce, fearing that the condition could be hereditary.
After months of sober reflections, she decided to inform her parents to dissolve her marriage.
At the family meeting, everyone insisted that Aku divorced her husband.
She was very emotive and overly confused, as the family accused her of bringing a bad omen into the family.
“It is a taboo to live with such a man, Aku, if you are not lucky you will only give birth to intersex babies if you and that man (Joe) start having children,” Aku’s Auntie cautioned.
Intersex is a general term used for a variety of situations in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the boxes 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.
Sometimes, doctors do surgeries on intersex babies and children to make their bodies fit binary ideas of “male” or “female”.
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals, that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.”
Intersex people face stigmatisation and discrimination from birth, particularly when an intersex variation is visible. In some countries (particularly in Africa and Asia), this may include infanticide, abandonment and the stigmatization of families.
Intersex infants and children, such as those with ambiguous outer genitalia, may be surgically and/or hormonally altered to fit perceived more socially acceptable sex characteristics. However, this is considered controversial, with no firm evidence of good outcomes. Such treatments may involve sterilization.
Adults, including elite female athletes, have also been subjects of such treatment. These issues are recognized as human rights abuses, with statements from UN agencies, the Australian parliament, and German and Swiss ethics institutions. Intersex organizations have also issued joint statements over several years, including the Malta declaration by the third International Intersex Forum.
Dr Brainerd Anani, Managing Director of GRAFT Foundation, a non-governmental medical organisation, speaking to the Ghana News Agency under the “Mobilizing the Media for Fighting covid-19″ project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights in collaboration with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) says, being intersex means an individual is born with two organs with one being predominant than the other, depending on the hormones which are domineering.
Research shows that some intersex traits are obvious at birth, while others only manifest during puberty. Actually, sometimes a person can live their whole life without ever discovering that they are intersex.
Dr Anani notes that being intersex is not so common in Ghana. However, “some people have this condition but they hide it because it’s not accepted by society.
” We know that, in the past, people were killed because in some parts of the country, it is a taboo for a mother to give birth to a baby with two sex organs.”
“I can recall a typical condition in a village called Nyankpala in the Northern part of Ghana, where Salamatu gave birth to an intersex baby. She had to leave the baby for her husband because her father said the child was an abomination and should be killed,” says Dr Anani.
Salamatu’s husband, he says, however, refused to kill the baby leading to their divorce.
The medical doctor says at present, there are no readily available data on intersex persons in Ghana because ‘intersex’ is not captured under the gender categories in the country.
Indeed, intersex is considered a birth anomally. However, with a revised orientation on sexuality around the world, persons with intersex genitals are calling for inclusion, arguing, they have a right to remain the way they were born.
Over the years, intersex persons have had surgeries to reduce or reposition a clitoris – a surgical procedure usually called clitoroplasty – clitoral reduction or recession.
Surgeries like vaginoplasty – creating or altering a vagina are done when a child, considered intersex is under two years old.
He, however, explains that surgery on intersex persons are expensive as it could cost about GH¢70,000.00 at different stages.
The procedure to change intersex traits is often offered to parents and considered acceptable by some doctors when a child is very young. It can be done at any stage of life, irrespective of the age, and is mostly successful without any complications when done rightly.
However, some human rights advocates have asserted that performing surgery on intersex babies results in their denial of important choices about their bodies—choices that can affect fertility, sexual function, and emotional well-being forever.
Dr Anani says in view of the violation of rights argument, intersex babies are now allowed to grow to adolescence to decide which sex they want to maintain.
Nevertheless, being intersex doesn’t affect one’s fertility.
He explains that a person may have breasts, a vagina and a womb with a penis without testicles, so in such instances, the penis is taken off for the person to become ‘fully’ a woman.
On the reverse, a person who has breasts, a penis with a testicle, and a vagina without a womb would be worked on to become fully a man.
He explains that intersex conditions usually come about when there is an abnormality during the formation of a baby.
The exact reasons for these deformities, he states, are still unknown.
“So, if your son is born with an extra finger, would you leave it there, or have it removed?,” he asks to make his point.
Although it is not confirmed whether being intersex is hereditary or not, experts say intersex persons usually have ‘normal’ babies.
Some human rights advocates have urged countries to pass laws to stop all medical surgeries and procedures on the genetalia of intersex children unless there exists a real risk to the life of that child if the surgery is not performed.
Some intersex persons are also calling on societies and individuals to stop all forms of discrimination against them.
Similarly, Article seven of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights states that; ‘All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such a discrimination .
Fortunately, Kenya has paved the way, becoming the first country, in July 2019, to recognise persons whose sexual makeup does not fit what is traditionally accepted.
It is the plea of the Joes across the world to governments to train medical professionals on how to address the needs of intersex persons and their immediate family members without violating their rights.
And so, it is time Ghana, and the rest of Africa, demonstrate love and acceptance to them, and give meaning to inclusive growth.
It is not a crime to be born with two different sex organs and it is important we stop stigmatising persons with such conditions.
When Aku realised that she could face a lifetime of stigmatisation from her own family members, she left the meeting very broken.
But then, when she went home to pack out of the marriage, she saw a note on the floor – her husband was on the verge of taking his life.
At that point, something suddenly changed in her. She realised that the best thing she could do was to show Joe abundant love by accepting him and to continue to be his wife.
So after many conversations, Joe was able to convince Aku that his condition is not hereditary but a birth deformity that may be operated on based on his choices.
After months of consultations and some research, the couple overcame their challenge and found new ways of enjoying themselves.
“I think I have come to love who I am. I have what many don’t have and my wife is okay with it. We both play around them and we feel so good,” Joe says.
Though he feels a bit uncomfortable among his friends, his new found happiness is rebuilding his confidence as a “real man”.
By Linda Naa Deide Aryeetey