Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Intersex Study: „Human Rights between Sexes“

Friday, November 1, 2013
The study human rights between the sexes – a preliminary study on the life situation of inter* individuals was conducted from August 1, 2012, to December 31, 2012 and published in October 2013 on behalf of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, Germany. It deals with the life conditions of intersexed people in various countries around the world, covering topics such as medical treatments and care, legal situation, and social situation. The main focus regarding these topics lies on the discrimination of inter* individuals. Besides, the study investigates the situation of NGO’s who work for and with inter* individuals. The study’s author, Dr. Dan Christian Ghattas , is a german Scientist and Journalist and himself an active member of the German trans* and intersex* (rights-) movement.
But what exactly does inter*, intersex, intersexed or intersexual mean? „Intersex individuals are persons who cannot be classified according to the medical norms of so-called male and female bodies with regard to their chromosomal, gonadal or anatomical sex. The latter becomes evident, for example, in secondary sex characteristics such as muscle mass, hair distribution and stature, or primary sex characteristics such as the inner and outer genitalia and/or the chromosomal and hormonal structure[1]. In order to ’normalize’ intersexed bodies by adapting them to the binary sex and gender system (male-female), most intersexuals receive medical treatment such as surgery and hormone therapie. But other than the common opinion, most intersexed bodies are perfectly healthy and do not actually need any medical treatment. Quite the contrary, a lot of the suffering intersexual people have to endure comes from these medical treatments and from the fact, that society does not accept them the way they were born. Therefore, it is a great aim of the inter* movement to stop the medicalisation of intersexed bodies and to make clear that intersexuality is not an illness or a disorder, but rather a normal and natural state of being, such as any other. Instead of seeing intersexual bodies as a disruption of the social order, one could also see it as a proof that human bodies come in more shapes than just „clearly male“ and „clearly female“.
As the publishers point out, it is still not common knowledge in the world that intersex individuals exist and so far, very little is know about the actual life conditions of intersex people. With the study at hand, the Heinrich Böll Foundation wants to make a contribution to making intersexed people and their discrimination in society more visible. Though the study must be understood as a preliminary study which can only give a broad overview and must therefore be followed by more extensive studies in the different countries, it renders usefull informations about the social, medical and legal situation of intersexuals in the participating countries and about the work of the NGO’s.
The study follows an approach which gives the subjects control and lets them talk about themselves rather than being talked about. Sixteen organisations from twelve different countries around the world participated in the study (Australia, Belgium, Germany, France, New Zealand, Serbia, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine and Uruguay). The findings of the study are summarized in two different catgories: 1. the life situations of intersexuals, and 2. the fields of work and the needs of the NGOs. The study also gives recommendations for action for international actors .This general summary is followed by a discription of the situation in each of the participating countries.
As the study could show clearly, it is still a long way until intersexed people will be a visible and accepted part of society: „Nearly all over the world, intersex bodies are considered to be barely, or not at all, capable of being integrated into the social order[2]. Though there are some significant differences between the participating countries in terms of the social, medical and legal situation, intersexed people are everywhere widely invisible and highly discriminated. There are still very few people working on this topic and the organisations which do so need much more ressources. In Turkey, for example, there has so far been only one public protest against the medicalisation of intersexed bodies, for intersexuality is still a strong taboo in turkish society, such as in all the other countries, too.
The full study can be downloaded here (English and German).

[1]Ghattas, Dan Christian (2013): Human Rights between the Sexes . A preliminary study on the life situations of inter* individuals . Heinrich Böll Foundation , Berlin, p.10.

[2]Ghattas, Dan Christian (2013): Human Rights between the Sexes . A preliminary study on the life situations of inter* individuals . Heinrich Böll Foundation , Berlin, p.19. 

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