Gays blast Mpilo hospital ambiguous genitalia surgery move

BGALZ-An association of Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people together with Trans and Intersex Rising Zimbabwe (TIRZ) have irately responded to Mpilo Central Hospital’s intended genitalia surgery for Intersex people.

The Bulawayo based hospital has initiated a register for people with ambiguous genitalia in a bid to help them deal with the issue and avoid future psycho-social problems they may encounter regarding sexuality.

Ambiguous genitalia is a rare condition in which an infant’s external genitals don’t appear to be clearly either male or female at birth.  

In a baby with ambiguous genitalia, the genitals may be incompletely developed or the baby may have characteristics of both sexes.

Mpilo Central Hospital clinical director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said the issue was prevalent in most parts of Matabeleland and had to be solved in the early stages to curb social stigma, and other complications.

 “We decided to help our communities deal with ambiguous genitalia after noting many resort to faith healers to solve the medical problem. We have started a register which will help us ascertain the prevalence and we will be able to help everyone who will approach our public relations department for help.

This is a medical issue which should be dealt with in the early stages of the child and people should not suffer in silence due to stigma,” said Ngwenya.

However responding to Mpilo hospital’s intentions in a press statement, GALZ Director Chesterfield Samba said the intention by the health care was an act of stigma.

“The intention; whose tag line is “Restoration to normalcy” reinforces an archaic belief that intersex people are abnormal therefore needs to be “fixed”. It is clear from the advertisement that some Zimbabwean health care providers use the label “disorders of sex development” to describe intersex traits, the term unnecessarily suggests that intersex traits and bodies are unhealthy or defective, contributing to intersex stigma.

The practice of treating intersex traits as birth defects or disorders, reinforce the belief that intersex people need to be “fixed.” Many intersex people, including children too young to understand or consent to unnecessary medical interventions, have been traumatised by their experiences in medical settings. These experiences may include surgical removal of reproductive organs, alteration of external and internal genitalia, and subjection to prepubescent hormonal therapy to force their bodies to develop in certain, expected ways. Some people have had their intersex status deliberately withheld from them by doctors and parents,”

These “normalizing” surgeries are usually carried out with the belief that bodies should conform to binary notions of male or female. Parents of intersex children experience pressure from healthcare workers and other authority figures such as registry officers as well as from other members of their families, religious and traditional leaders; to have their children undergo these invasive, and in most cases irreversible surgeries for non-medical reasons. Because most of these surgeries happen when people are children, they do not have capacity or understanding to give consent. Intersex genitalia mutilation is one specific type of “normalizing” surgery carried out on the genitals of intersex infants and children for social, cultural or religious reasons—such as the belief that bodies should conform to binary notions of male or female,” read part of the statement.

The two associations went on to say that the practice of undergoing surgery for children is a violation of human rights.

“This is against best human rights practices of allowing individuals to have bodily autonomy and to not be subjected to any coercion or pressure to alter their bodies without comprehensive knowledge of medical and psycho-social implications.

Having supported community members who are Intersex and have been subjected to these medically unnecessary procedures, we understand that these surgeries have life-long negative impacts on our community. These surgeries can cause physical and psychological suffering. Children too young to express their gender identity may be surgically assigned the wrong sex. Surgery to alter the size or appearance of genitals can cause scarring, incontinence, loss of sexual feeling, and emotional distress.

Removing testes and ovaries results in involuntary sterilization and may require lifelong hormonal replacement therapy. Individuals who have been subjected to these procedures have reported resultant chronic trauma as they later realized that the gender assigned is contrary to what they identify as,”

GALZ went on to ask for a dialogue with the Ministyry of health care and Mpilo central hospital.

“We encourage the Ministry of Health and Child Care and Mpilo Central Hospital to suspend the intended surgeries and create safe spaces for dialogue with all interested stakeholders including Intersex Community members, Development Agencies and other Government departments such as the Registrar Generals office to develop sustainable guidelines and policies for improved quality of life for the Zimbabwean intersex citizens,” said Samba.