Unspeakable Gender? The Story International Human Rights Law Is (Not) Telling about Medical Sexing Interventions upon Intersex Children

Wednesday 5 December at 3:00 PM – Sala del Torrino, Villa Salviati

Speaker: Giovanna Gilleri (EUI Researcher, Department of Law)
Chair: Martin Christensen (EUI Researcher, Department of Law, Coordinator of the International Law Working Group)

Abstract   Over the last few years, many international institutions have called upon states to stop medical sexing interventions upon intersex children, also known as ‘normalising’ surgeries. Intersex rights are increasingly recognised under international human rights law from the perspective of the rights of children, women, persons with disabilities, and as forms of torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment. In absence of a comprehensive human rights conceptualisation, I propose a gender analysis of medical sexing interventions, which would capture the socially and culturally-engrained grounds of the violation. The physically diverse intersex features seem to challenge the cultural norms which define sex/gender in dichotomous terms in the West. Surgeries are therefore performed on individuals born with sex characteristics which do not conform to the typical male or female anatomy. The reconstruction of the intersex body through the surgery aims to restore the sex-stereotyped ‘harmony’ in compliance with the social binary-normativity. International human rights law has responded to forms of harmful practices which are at the intersection of gender and culture, including female genital mutilation. Equally, gender stereotyping is considered wrongful where societal norms based on stereotypical sex beliefs result in a violation of human rights (of women). Yet the law is silent on the gendered binary-normativity underpinning intersex-targeting abuses. The failure to address the binary-normative rationale of the violation stems from the traditional metonymic (gender=women), dualistic (male/female) and asymmetrical (male>female) approach to gender incorporated in international human rights law.

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