Founded by Mphatso Sakala, Intersex Society Zambia (ISSZ) is an intersex-led not-for-profit non-governmental organisation founded on 2nd May 2018. It ISSZ started its operations on 1st April 2019 and was registered on 19th May 2019. It exists to facilitate the recognition and protection of intersex people and to promote access to social, legal, political, spiritual and economic frameworks of intersex persons and transforming them into well-informed, motivated and active individuals to live a fulfilling life, achieving their dreams and contributing to their communities in Zambia and beyond its borders.

More about ISSZ’s founder, Mphatso Sakala

Delphine Barigye, a member of the Trans Intersex History Africa team, spent time with Mphatso Sakala to chat about the founding of ISSZ.

Founder and current Executive Director of ISSZ, Mphatso is a passionate Intersex activist and human rights defender. They have played an active role in intersex activism in Africa since 2017 and are passionate and committed to intersex human rights advocacy and documentation. They have taken a leadership role in the formation of the African Intersex Movement (AIM), which brings together intersex activists and persons from across Africa and Mphatso currently sits on the AIM steering Committee as a Co-Chair. They have also contributed to several regional and global intersex spaces.

They are a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Southern Africa (SA) Civic Leadership Alumni 2017, Rainbow Advocacy Program Fellow 2018 and Human Rights Defender Advocacy Program Fellow 2019 and a consultant on Intersex People and Sex Characteristics issues. A Computer and Network Engineer by profession and currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies and Psychology, they are fervent about human rights work, especially the rights of intersex persons (children, adolescents and adults), children and marginalised groups.

ISSZ’s Vision

A Zambia where the rights of intersex persons are upheld by all.


To promote the rights of intersex persons in Zambia for an inclusive social, legal, and policy environment through evidence-based advocacy, awareness raising, psychosocial support, rehabilitation and supporting access to economic opportunities, education and health services.

Interview with Mphatso

What inspired you to start ISSZ instead of joining an existing intersex organisation, if there was one in Zambia at the time?

I first worked for an organisation that advocated for trans and intersex rights but I later noticed a gap in the programming, especially around intersex children. If you are very keen in intersex activism, you will realise that organisations that work with minority groups usually avoid working with children because they do not want to be accused of recruiting them into homosexuality, which is a misleading notion that is not true but is still a narrative that exists in our society. This gap clearly affects the intersex babies whose identity questions begin at birth! My exact thoughts were “what happens to intersex babies and children between the time they are born until the time they reach puberty or the age of 16 or 18 to discover themselves?” This is what provoked me to start ISSZ, an intersex specific organisation that could encompass the welfare of intersex people from infancy, through childhood, youth to their adulthood.

How did you identify the specific needs or issues of the intersex community that ISSZ addresses?

It was through a combined effort of strategies. I specifically had the privilege of travelling to Uganda to learn from pioneer organisations like SIPD (Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development) to understand intersex programming and organising. This helped me identify the stakeholders in Intersex rights advocacy and on travelling back to Zambia, I engaged intersex persons and mothers of intersex children in order to understand their own experiences beyond mine. I also did a lot of reading, research and consultations. This helped me form interventions around the unique needs and challenges of the intersex people in Zambia.

Were there any role models or mentors who influenced your decision to start ISSZ?

Yes, I was mentored by Julius Kaggwa, the founder of SIPD Uganda and my late doctor, Prof. James Chipeta.

Can you describe the initial steps you took to turn your idea into a reality?

When I realised the gaps around intersex organising in Zambia, my first step was to talk to the organisation that I was working with at the time to explain why I was leaving at the end of my contract. It was important for me to maintain a good working relationship with them. I then identified some of the main goals I wanted to achieve if I was to found an intersex-specific organisation. Exploring the change that I wanted to see in Zambia, the bigger picture, that is the vision, I also engaged with and learnt a lot from intersex activists from around Africa and the globe, doing a situational analysis back at home to build a strong foundation that would support the intersex community in Zambia.

Did you face any scepticism or doubt from others when you first proposed ISSZ? How did you respond?

Many supported and encouraged me to start the organisation, however there were instances that gave me cold feet as the day came closer. The landscape around intersex activism proved to be challenging especially around funding. I debated about leaving a job that paid me a monthly salary to commit to a volunteer position. This caused a lot of scepticism but I decided to focus on the good that the organisation would bring.

What values or principles guide your organisation’s work?

The organisation is guided by confidentiality, transparency and accountability, compassion, commitment, responsibility, tolerance and team work.

How do you involve the community in the planning and implementation of ISSZ projects?

We usually make sure that our programming is informed by the community we work with through the peer and parents’ support groups meetings that we hold monthly. These help inform our work by providing valuable local knowledge and insights into the communities’ dynamics and keep it tailored to the needs of our community.

Have you collaborated with other organisations or individuals to further your mission? If so, how?

The intersex community has a number of stakeholders and this has enlarged our collaborations as well. We’ve collaborated with media institutions to create visibility and help in shaping opinions and narratives on intersex persons. We have also closely worked with organisations that offer skills development programmes. We have worked with religious groups, government ministries like the ministry of health, Civil Society Organisations and partners beyond Zambia as well. We have worked with Institutions like the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR). Our collaborations also includes intersex-led organisations from around Africa and the World.

What do you think sets ISSZ apart from others working in the same field?

Community involvement is a priority for us and this has fostered community ownership of the organisation.

Looking back, what are you most proud of accomplishing with ISSZ so far?

I can talk about three accomplishments. One was the privilege of being able to contribute in the advocacy efforts that led to the adoption of the Resolution 552 to promote and protect the rights of Intersex persons in Africa by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Africa.

The second is having initiated the development of a management protocol for intersex persons — one that will hopefully be reviewed and adopted by the Zambian Ministry of Health very soon.

Lastly is being able to conduct a legal and policy review as an organisation with support from other stakeholders, which shows the gaps in the law when it comes to inclusion of intersex persons.

Watch Mphatso being interviewed by Diamond TV Zambia:

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