Update on Senate Inquiry on involuntary and coerced sterilisation

The Senate’s Community Affairs Committee has announced that the final report of its inquiry on the involuntary and coerced sterilisation of people with disabilities will now be split into two reports. The first report, in relation to people with disabilities, will be released on the scheduled date of 17 July. A second report, focusing on intersex people, will now be published around two weeks later, around the end of July (update: likely in late September).

We are advised that this is due to a late influx of relevant data on the medical normalisation of intersex people. Amongst those late submissions are reports by the Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group (APEG), OII Australia and the National LGBTI Health Alliance responses, and a small number of personal submissions.

With the passing of the Sex Discrimination Amendment, and guidelines on sex and gender recognition, this is the major outstanding human rights issue facing intersex people in Australia. Alongside anti-discrimination protection, this is the most significant issue for our community.

Contrasting policy and procedures on Female Genital Mutilation and intersex surgical “normalisation”

Two recent submissions contrast policy and procedures on female genital mutilation (FGM) and on intersex infants and children.

The third OII Australia submission presents data on the rationales for surgery on intersex infants, such as “mitigating the risks of gender identity confusion”, “family distress” “cultural disadvantage” and “reduced opportunities for marriage”. These are all rationales in medical literature and decision-making frameworks – and they are also conceivably rationales in favour of female genital mutilation in societies where that is the norm.

The third National LGBTI Health Alliance submission presents comparative data on the form of such surgeries:

Procedures that are routinely performed on intersex young people in Australia fit the WHO definition of Types 1, 2 and 4 Female Genital Mutilation.

These procedures are criminalised and acknowledged to have no therapeutic benefit when performed on young people who are classified as ‘female’ in Australia.

The Sex Discrimination Act (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) 2013 prohibits discrimination on the basis of intersex status. Based on this legislation, we ask the Committee to recommend identical criminal sanctions against medically unnecessary “normalising” surgical procedures on intersex young people that are being mischaracterised as “therapeutic” by Australian medical professionals.

These procedures are standard medical practice in Australia and elsewhere today. In an anonymous online survey of current practice in feminizing surgery for congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) among 162 specialists (60% paediatric surgeons or paediatric urologists) attending the IVth World Congress of the International Society of Hypospadias and Disorders of the Sex Development (ISHID) (sic) in 2011, 78% of surgeons reported that they preferred conducting early surgery before the age of two years. Most conduct surgical alteration of the clitoris, vagina and labia. Most surgeons reported that their techniques include surgical removal of clitoral erectile tissue (Yankovic, Cherian, Steven, Mathur, & Cuckow, 2013).

We hope that the Senate Inquiry will consider the human rights issues apparent in the differential treatment of intersex infants, compared to the criminalisation of Female Genital Mutilation.

Download the Inquiry reports on involuntary or coerced sterilisation

Recent developments

OII Australia submissions

AISSGA and National LGBTI Health Alliance submissions

Clinician submissions

Legal submissions

Documents tabled by OII Australia

More information