In a population count starting Saturday, Kenya will become the first country in Africa to recognize people who identify their gender as intersex. The third category will be listed along with male and female on census forms.
During the census, people like 52-year-old Judith Baraza will be allowed to identify as intersex. Baraza says he is happy about the initiative but wants any details about people like him to remain confidential.
Baraza said,“ I request from the census people, when they get our information, to keep it secret. They should not make it public. If they can keep our information secret I think census will be something good for us.”
Baraza was reared as a girl but growing up, felt more like a boy. He says a decision by his mother has impacted him to this day.
Baraza says that when he was 15 years old his mother told him he was born with both genitals. He says she took him to a doctor who carried out surgery to remove the male genitalia. Baraza says he asked his mother why she did that to him. She said she didn’t want to see him with other people like that.
Kwamboka Kibagendi also identifies himself as intersex.
Kibagnedi said, “When I heard that intersex people will be included in this year’s census I was so delighted. A small survey was done – didn’t establish how many people are intersex because people are afraid to come out – now since it’s the government initiative, it will be easy even for parents to bring their intersex child out for the count. It’s a plus for people like us. I’m so happy.”
Intersex people have reproductive organs, genitals, and hormones that do not fit the usual female and male characteristics.
Vivian Nyarunda is a population statistician at the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, which is tasked with carrying out the census. She says it is time to acknowledge such people in society by establishing how many identify in this way for planning purposes.
Nyarunda says, “We have been categorizing them as male, female but you realized that we have been leaving them out, we need to plan for them. We need to have schools that have their interests at heart. So we need to know how many there are if anything is going to be planned for.”
Human rights organizations have been calling on intersex people to come out and be counted, but, many people who identify in this way have raised security and safety concerns.
Rebecca Ogembo works with Nyarwek network, an organization fighting for the rights of intersex people in western Kenya.
“This will be a matter of disclosure and when disclosure happens, the intersex person will feel at risk, will feel vulnerable. The discrimination they feel will be heightened at a certain point, so we are hoping that the state has a mechanism to deal with that situation,” Ogembo said.
The government has vowed to take action against any officials who share people’s personal information.