In 2019, a historic moment unfolded as 21 African Intersex human rights defenders from across the African continent convened in Kenya under the theme “Visibility…. Voice…. Freedom”, from the 19th to the 21st of June to establish the African Intersex Movement (AIM). The landmark initiative aimed at sharing information, skills and resources while advancing the rights and visibility of intersex individuals across Africa. The convention made a pivotal step forward by the African region collectively addressing unique challenges faced by the intersex community in the region and amplifying their voices on the global stage. 

Hosted in a spirit of solidarity and association, the formation of AIM brought together IHRDs and allies from across Africa including Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The convention created a platform to allow individual connections with fellow intersex activists in ways that fostered movement wellness, built trust and affirmed a collective vision towards the change desired for the African intersex community. Activists shared their experiences, discussed common struggles, identified specific regional needs and structured a united front in advocating for dignity, equality and recognition for intersex persons.

The main theme of the convention was the recognition of intersex rights as human rights. Participants reaffirmed the principles enshrined in both the International and regional human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Yogyakarta principles and the African Charter on Human and peoples’ Rights which affirm the right of intersex individuals to self-determination, bodily autonomy and non-discrimination. They also spoke about countries like Malta, Australia, and Portugal which have taken steps to legally protect intersex persons, examining why Africa as a region and the different state parties have little or very close to no interest in legislating to protect their own intersex communities from the severe violations and abuses as reported by the activists.

Throughout the proceedings, speakers underscored the urgent need to challenge harmful practices such as infanticides, discrimination, non-consensual surgeries and ‘normalizing’ interventions now more commonly referred to as Intersex genital mutilation (IGM) imposed on intersex children. These practices, rooted in stigma and ignorance, have long perpetuated violence and trauma against intersex individuals often resulting in lifelong physical and psychological harm. Some of the widely highlighted challenges directly involved in intersex activism included the absurdly low funding that is directed towards intersex organizing in Africa and how the African governments continue to ignore the intersex communities in their countries despite clear knowledge about their existence and the severe violations and abuses of the human rights of intersex individuals. Participants concurred that one of the most effective approaches to addressing this issue could be through improving messaging and outreaches while specially utilizing the National Human Rights Institutions which operate autonomously from the government but possess the capacity to exert influence upon it; a strategy that proved to work for the Kenyan activists. 

The convention also provided a platform for intersex activists to highlight the intersections of intersex identity with other forms of oppression, including child abuse, female genital mutilation, gender-based violence, discrimination and marginalization. the intersectionality is important to fully address all forms of oppression without dismantling a person’s identity into a distinct dimension as if one kind waits patiently for the other one to take its effect before it can begin. Discussions were therefore centred on the importance of building inclusive movements that centre the voices and experiences of intersex people, particularly those from marginalized communities whose oppression and discrimination is an inextricably blended experience. The diverse expressions will serve to challenge the prevailing narratives of shame and secrecy surrounding intersexuality and affirm the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.

The key outcomes of the convention were the election of a starring committee of the African Intersex Movement made up of four members, overseen by Julius Kaggwa and Hlompho Mokoena formerly known as Nthabiseng and a statement that was guided by the 2017 Statement from the first African intersex meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. The genesis of the establishment of the AIM can be traced back to this meeting where ideas of the necessity were formalised by the participants.

A group picture of participants at the First African Intersex Movement
A group picture of participants at the First African Intersex Movement, in Johannesburg, South Africa, 2017

The 2019 Statement, an outcome of the conference held in Naivasha, Kenya in 2019,  is a public statement to extend demands aiming to end discrimination against intersex people while ensuring their right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. This statement announced the launch of the African Intersex Movement offering themselves as the African intersex reference of intelligence for stakeholders and allies who are interested in strengthening the ongoing liberation work for intersex people’s rights and autonomy.  The statement demands a wide range of rights including legal recognition, access to healthcare, employment, education and sport, marriage, bodily autonomy, information, especially to medical records and surroundings, inclusion and mainly the right to life. It also calls upon Community leaders, human rights organisations and resource partners to support the African intersex people.

Key to the convention’s success was the active participation and leadership of the pioneers of intersex activism in Africa whose first-hand experiences provided invaluable insights and drove the agenda for change. Their courage in sharing their activism stories of resilience, survival, and self-affirmation served as a powerful catalyst for collective action among attendees.

A group photo of the participants in Naivasha, Kenya at the convention in 2019

The 2019 Statement, an outcome of the conference held in Naivasha, Kenya in 2019,  is a public statement to extend demands aiming to end discrimination against intersex people while ensuring their right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. This statement announced the launch of the African Intersex Movement offering themselves as the African intersex reference of intelligence for stakeholders and allies who are interested in strengthening the ongoing liberation work for intersex people’s rights and autonomy.  The statement demands a wide range of rights including legal recognition, access to healthcare, employment, education and sport, marriage, bodily autonomy, information, especially to medical records and surroundings, inclusion and mainly the right to life. It also calls upon Community leaders, human rights organisations and resource partners to support the African intersex people.

Key to the convention’s success was the active participation and leadership of the pioneers of intersex activism in Africa whose first-hand experiences provided invaluable insights and drove the agenda for change. Their courage in sharing their activism stories of resilience, survival, and self-affirmation served as a powerful catalyst for collective action among attendees.

The formation of the African Intersex Movement was a critical milestone in the ongoing struggle intersex rights and recognition. The movement stands as a testament to the power of collective action. Recognising the need to promote unity, solidarity and cooperation among African nations was the first step towards wider visibility and long term impact. The movement has grown to have an impressive coverage of all the African regions and as it continues to gain its momentum and evolve, its members remain steadfast in their commitment to challenging oppression, fostering solidarity, and creating a world where all intersex persons can live authentically and without fear.

The Movement amplifies intersex voices and affirms to the world that, in all African Countries: WE EXIST