By CHRISTINE MWAABA
FOR many people born arise not only from their
bodies, but also from a world that struggles to tolerate their
To be born intersex means to possess both male and female organs.
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
intersex people are born with any of several variations in sex
characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or
genitals that, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female
Intersex is the term used to describe these biological differences.
In the past, the word “hermaphrodite” was used to describe people who
have sexual characteristics that are both male and female.
But today, many people prefer to use the word intersex.
Hermaphrodite is considered offensive by some people.
An example of an intersex person could be one who might be born with a
feminine appearance but have male organs on the inside.
When it comes to public awareness of what intersex is, there appears
to be neither information nor frequent discussion on the matter.
For example, the author of this article had difficulty finding people
who were ready to discuss the topic.
This was after some intersex individuals, who opted to remain
anonymous, narrated their life experiences.
The narration was an insight into the intersex mystery because this
writer discovered significant and profound secrecy in the everyday
experiences of affected individuals.
The secrecy surrounding intersex people made it difficult for the
author of the story to collect adequate information and contact
affected individuals or their parents of the part of children
struggling with the intersex condition.
Society has taken intersex as an extremely private matter that has for
a long time been kept within the confines of hospitals where a
patient’s ‘privacy’ is guaranteed.
It is undeniable that this condition has negatively affected people,
some of whom appear to have been forced to wear clothes of either sex
when this does not suit their gender.
This also included names of intersex individuals.
One after another, the intersex persons shared how they felt unusual
and different from the time they were children.
To them, it was forbidden to talk about the condition to the outside
world and up to now, it is not allowed to say anything to anyone.
One intersex youth narrated how his appearance sometimes led people to
mistake him for a girl and treat him like one, which caused him
frustration, pain, especially that this secret was only known at the
hospital and by his parents.
He said no one knows how to present themselves to the world whether to
come out as an intersex individual because that does not register as
This is why to-date, the youth spends his life in the dark as he has
to fight off stigma, abuse and suicide to prove that he is indeed male
and not female.
He recalls how his mother delivered him and noticed that her first
born child had ambiguous genitalia displaying both male and female
organs and his father immediately left, claiming that it was a sign of
Unsure of how the rest of the community would react, his mother
decided to raise the child as a boy.
She never spoke of the condition to anyone.
“I hate the day I was born.
“I don’t know the exact date of my birthday because to me, that is the
day my woes in this world started.
“I have been stripped naked and laughed at,” the youth said.
He said it is even heartbreaking that when he is stripped naked,
people tend to react with strong emotions.
He said he is often treated like an outcast.
Because of the way they get treated, most intersex people rarely enrol
or finish school.
Another intersex youth recalled how she went to an all-girls school
and had to drop out because of being masculine.
With what can only be described as courage, she takes a moment to
gather herself and speak confidently about her intersex status.
She revealed that she does not feel like she has a gender because of
her biological characteristics that are both female and male.
For people who believe in witchcraft, the birth of an intersex child
may be described as a curse.
Moreover, intersex people struggle to have their gender identity
properly recorded on legal documents because the law does not
recognize their existence.
They spend years explaining to officials and presenting medical
evidence that being intersex is not illegal because it’s a physical
This is because being intersex is sometimes associated with
homosexuality, which is illegal in Zambia.
Ignorantly, some families with intersex children rise them as girls or
boys but eventually when they are old enough, they discover that the
individual identifies with another gender.
Such children as seen s being different and are often stigmatized and
subjected to multiple human rights violations including discrimination
in education, healthcare, employment, sport, and public services.
Human rights institutions are placing increasing scrutiny on harmful
practices and issues of discrimination against intersex people.
These issues have been addressed by a number of international
institutions like the United Nations (UN) and the World Health
These developments have been accompanied by international intersex
fora and increased cooperation amongst civil society organisations
However, addressing the plight of intersex people in Zambia remains difficult.
Many have lived and died without anyone knowing their real identity,
Hearing life experiences of intersex people is one experience that
sends shivers down one’s spine.
Such individuals suffer discrimination; they are abandoned and
regarded as outcasts in communities.
They endure a mixture of shame.
They are portrayed as though their issues borders on taboo and either
witchcraft or sexual perversion.
University of Zambia (UNZA), School of Nursing Sciences Assistant Dean
Patricia Katowa Mukwato is on record of having said that intersex
people are normal just like others.
Dr Mukwato said being intersex does not mean being physically or
She explained that intersex people grow up just as normal people.
She said such variations when it comes to their sexual orientation
just involves their genital combination of chromosomal genotypes and
sexual phenotypes other than XY-male and XX-female.
These people are alive and kicking in Zambia.
It is high time that the law recognizes them and gives them the space
they need to enjoy their rights because they have no choice regarding
how they are born, their physical outlook and what sexual organs they