February 26, 2019 at 10:19 am EST | by Alex Cooper
European Parliament passes historic intersex rights resolution
(Photo by Ash Crow via Wikimedia Commons)

The European Parliament on Feb. 14 adopted a resolution on the rights of intersex people. It stipulated that European Union member states should legislate better policies that protected intersex individuals, especially from unnecessary surgery and discrimination.

The resolution was introduced earlier by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE Committee).

A significant aspect of the resolution included the pronouncement establishing the levels of discrimination and violence that people with variations of sex characteristics face in Europe.

The resolution also called for better counseling and support for intersex children and individuals with disabilities, including education for their parents.

It stated that the parliament “strongly condemns sex-normalizing treatments and surgery; welcomes laws that prohibit such surgery, as in Malta and Portugal, and encourages other member states to adopt similar legislation as soon as possible.”

The resolution also urged legal gender recognition based on self-determination since some intersex people may not identify with the gender there were assigned when they were born.

The LGBTI Intergroup and the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament prepared the EP’s resolution with consultation from both Organization Intersex International Europe and ILGA-Europe.

After the resolution passed OII Europe Co-Chair Kitty Anderson said in a joint statement with ILGA-Europe that the resolution was “outstanding.”

“It is clearly based on an in-depth knowledge about the human rights violations that intersex people face in within the European Union,” Anderson said in the statement.

“This resolution is setting a standard within the European Union” said OII Europe Executive Director Dan Christian Ghattas. “To date the United Nations treaty bodies have reprimanded EU member states 22 times. Ten times alone in the past two years … We need member states and the European Commission to step up.”

Leading up to the resolution’s approval, members of the European Parliament debated it with almost unanimous support. Claude Moraes, chairman of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and an author of the resolution, told the parliament of the various violations intersex people face and urged the body to work to depathologize people with variant sex characteristics.

“If we are going to measure our values in the European Union by the way particular communities are treated and their vulnerability, then clearly the position faced by intersex people, not only in the European Union but also worldwide, is of significance.” Moraes, who is also a member of the LGBTI Intergroup, said, telling those present that intersex people face discrimination, lack of legal recognition and visibility. “And it’s worth mentioning that human rights violations experienced by this community are significant, and we need to put them on the agenda today.”

Activists and advocates say it stands as a milestone for the intersex rights movement which has seen significant growth in recent years.

“This is a really critical milestone,” explained Tarah Demant, director of Amnesty International USA’s Gender, Sexuality and Identity Program. “It is one step in the long road we all have to make sure intersex people everywhere have the same rights and the same dignity we all enjoy.”

“There’s never been a perfect rights movement,” added Demant on the awareness raising happening in recent years about intersex rights. She said that though intersex rights advocacy is not new, the issues faced by intersex people have not been as visible as other rights issues. “We’ve been moving forward to make [rights movements] more inclusive.”

Describing how this resolution changes things what aspect is the most significant, Anderson from OII said, “It takes the view that pathologization of intersex variations jeopardizes the full enjoyment by intersex people to highest attainable level of health.”

The advocacy to get the resolution passed began back in 2015, Anderson explained. She told the Washington Blade that several groups in the European Parliament took up advocating for intersex rights, including the LGBTI Intergroup, the LIBE Committee and the Children’s Rights Intergroup. Four years after the first step, the vote went off without a hitch.

“The vote itself … it just passed so clearly with a clear majority,” Anderson described.

“Intersex issues have been skyrocketing because of awareness [in the last few years],” Anderson said. “Five or six years ago there wasn’t so much on the books.”

Now, Anderson says intersex rights activists are setting their sights on national implementation of the resolution also using a separate resolution on intersex rights from the Council of Europe in 2017.

Besides implementation of the resolution, Anderson told the Blade that, “We are working on community building and building up a strong network of intersex activists and advocates across Europe.”

Alex Cooper is a journalist based in the Balkans, mostly covering Eastern Europe and Eurasia. You can follow him on Twitter @wgacooper.

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