AHRC: Ensure health and bodily integrity for people with intersex variations

Australian Human Rights Commission - report cover, extract
We need new laws that recognise our right to decide what happens to our own bodies: Intersex advocates and Equality Australia welcome Human Rights Commission report

Intersex Human Rights Australia and Equality Australia have today welcomed the findings of a landmark report on the human rights of intersex people, launching a new campaign for laws to end medically unnecessary procedures that modify the sex characteristics of intersex people without their consent.

The report released today by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Ensuring health and bodily integrity: towards a human rights approach for people born with variations in sex characteristics, calls for new legislative protections that prohibit medically unnecessary interventions on people born with variations of sex characteristics.

The report states that, “‘Normalising’ interventions have been understood by both people born with variations in sex characteristics and those around them as meaning that their bodies are undesirable or problematic. This can fuel stigma and shame. The Commission agrees that ‘normalising’ interventions appear to exacerbate a cycle of stigma about bodily diversity, thereby being used to justify further medical interventions.”

“Today’s report recognises that people with innate variations of sex characteristics have been subject to ongoing human rights abuses. It builds on the vital work of the intersex movement and allies, and a 2013 cross-party Senate report”, said Morgan Carpenter, bioethicist and Executive Director of Intersex Human Rights Australia.

“The report identifies key problems with current clinical practice, including lack of evidence, a reliance on psychosocial rationales that are better addressed by peer support and other forms of support, and a lack of attention to concerns raised by psychological and psychiatric professionals. It recognises that criminal penalties and oversight are necessary to protect the human rights of children with variations of sex characteristics in medical settings, and it calls for more action on redress and resourcing. Today we’re calling on state, territory and Commonwealth governments to act to end these abuses. We need new laws that recognise our right to decide what happens to our own bodies.

Intersex Human Rights Australia and LGBTIQ+ legal group, Equality Australia, have launched a national campaign, My Body, My Choice, calling for laws in every state and territory to end these harmful practices, following the report’s release and associated media coverage featuring intersex people and their families, at https://equalityaustralia.org.au/intersex-rights/

“Infants and children in Australia continue to be subjected to inappropriate interventions including unnecessary and irreversible surgeries and hormone treatments. Legislation is needed to protect children born with intersex variations so they can make their own decisions about their bodies when they can provide consent, while still allowing any necessary interventions with appropriate approval processes. All human bodies are different, and intersex variations are a natural part of human diversity. The report also acknowledges a need for non-medical support to affirm our human rights and dignity. We need resourcing for our peer support and advocacy groups” said Tony Briffa, Co-Chair of the Victorian Government Intersex Expert Advisory Group, Vice-Chair of Intersex Human Rights Australia, and President of Intersex Peer Support Australia.

Both the Victorian and ACT Government’s have made public commitments to introduce legislation that will end unnecessary medical procedures that modify the sex characteristics of intersex people without their consent. National LGBTIQ+ legal group, Equality Australia, has welcomed these commitments and urged these states and other jurisdictions in Australia to bring forward laws quickly.

“Thanks to the tireless work of intersex advocates, the ACT and Victorian government have made significant commitments to strengthen the rights of intersex people to make choices about what happens to their own bodies, but are yet to introduce legislation,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.

“All states and territories must act urgently to introduce oversight schemes with appropriate prohibitions on unnecessary medical procedures performed on intersex people without their personal consent.

“Governments should also act to redress past injustices, address stigma and discrimination, and ensure intersex people are provided with fair and accurate information and support to be able to make fully informed decisions about their own healthcare.”

Morgan Carpenter, Tony Briffa and Anna Brown were all members of the expert reference group for this inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Morgan Carpenter is a signatory of the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.

For media inquiries, contact Matthew Phillips on 0408 541 717 or media@equalityaustralia.org.au or Morgan Carpenter on 0418 356 131 or morgan.carpenter@ihra.org.au

For information about the My Body, My Choice campaign visit: https://equalityaustralia.org.au/intersex-rights/

For further information about intersex human rights issues, visit: ihra.org.au

The Australian Human Rights Commission report can be found at: https://humanrights.gov.au/intersex-report-2021

Note to journalists: Just as skin and hair colour vary along a spectrum, so do our sex characteristics. An intersex person is born with physical sex characteristics that are less common, varying from social or medical norms for male or female bodies. The word ‘intersex’ refers to these innate bodily variations of sex characteristics, not a person’s gender or sexuality.

The terminology used to describe people born with variations in sex characteristics is contested, and can cause harm We strongly recommend language in any reporting be guided by individuals with lived experience and their peer support and advocacy organisations, such as https://ihra.org.au/style/