Intersex Genital Mutilation

What is Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM)?

Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) is an intervention on a healthy intersex body. It is performed when, according to societal and medical notions, a person’s external genitals do not look “normal” enough to pass as “male” or “female” genitals.

Performing IGM was not always the default practice. Before the middle of the twentieth century, as a 2016 article of three Surgeons General of the United States points out, “most children born with genitalia that did not fit the male-female binary norm were not subjected to surgery”. Beginning with the 1950s, however, in “an era when pressure to conform to social norms was often unyielding”, the standard treatment protocol changed. Infants born with atypical genitalia were “increasingly subjected to surgical procedures such as clitoral reduction, vaginoplasty, gonadectomy, and hypospadias repair, primarily to ‘normalize’ gendered appearance, not to improve function”.

The term IGM encompasses all harmful medical practices, including surgical, hormonal and other medical treatments to irreversibly modify sex characteristics of intersex persons for non-vital, cosmetic reasons.

 

What is Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM)?

Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) is an intervention on a healthy intersex body. It is performed when, according to societal and medical notions, a person’s external genitals do not look “normal” enough to pass as “male” or “female” genitals. Performing IGM was not always the default practice. Before the middle of the twentieth century, as a 2016 article of three Surgeons General of the United States points out, “most children born with genitalia that did not fit the male-female binary norm were not subjected to surgery”. Beginning with the 1950s, however, in “an era when pressure to conform to social norms was often unyielding”, the standard treatment protocol changed. Infants born with atypical genitalia were “increasingly subjected to surgical procedures such as clitoral reduction, vaginoplasty, gonadectomy, and hypospadias repair, primarily to ‘normalize’ gendered appearance, not to improve function”. The term IGM encompasses all harmful medical practices, including surgical, hormonal and other medical treatments to irreversibly modify sex characteristics of intersex persons for non-vital, cosmetic reasons.

Medical interventions on intersex infants and children are still the rule

In the World Health Organization’s 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) people with variations of sex characteristics continue being pathologized and called disordered. Since 2009 the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies have called on UN Member States to stop human rights violations intersex people face in society and in medical settings more than 70 times. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in its resolution “Promoting the human rights of and eliminating discrimination against intersex people” (2017), the European Parliament in its “Resolution on the Rights of Intersex People” (2019) and the European Commission in its “LGBTIQ Equality Strategy” (2020) all calling the Member States to end pathologisation and harmful medical treatment of intersex people, including surgeries and other medical treatment. Still, many intersex infants and children but also intersex adolescents and adults are subjected to non-vital, invasive and irreversible surgeries and other medical treatments. In most cases, these interventions are not wished for by the intersex person themselves and in case of infants and children, most of them are deferrable until the person could make an informed decision. For example a German study (2017) and its follow-up study (2019) on the quantitative development of feminizing and masculinizing genital surgeries in Germany on children with a variation of physical sex characteristics both prove the continued human rights violations in German hospitals with figures for the years 2015 and 2016. The follow up study reveals a frightening inability of medicine for a real departure from a normative, paternalistic and violent treatment practice. Despite progressively revised guidelines, the frequency of feminization and masculinization surgeries performed on under-ten-year-old children with variations in physical sex characteristics as inpatients has not decreased in relation to diagnoses from 2005 to 2016. Rather, it has remained broadly constant. On average, 1871 feminizing and masculinizing surgical procedures were performed per year throughout the study period, according to the study; in 2016, the number was as high as 2079 surgical procedures. (Source: OII Germany)