For Intersex Nigeria, 2023 was a year of incredible progress in the face of significant obstacles. Executive Director Obioma Chukwuike recalls a dialogue with the Lagos State Ministry of Health: ‘We discussed intersex genital mutilation. We wanted them to be more concerned about the consequences for intersex children and intersex people. It didn’t go well. They weren’t willing to interact with us on the topic. But when we hit a block, it pushes us to do more. It gives us momentum.’ 

Founded in 2019, the group’s priorities include building community, raising awareness, and creating knowledge. ‘We still don’t have policies or laws in Nigeria that support intersex persons or criminalise violence against them. In sexual and reproductive health and rights policies, there’s nothing on intersex people. They’re invisible,’ explains Jennifer Aliu-Kadiri, Programme Officer for Diversity and Inclusion. ‘In our advocacy, we try to create awareness and visibility. That’s where it starts. When there’s a discussion about human rights and laws and policy, we want to be there. Because intersex people’s rights are human rights.’ 

The group was present at the 45th UPR Pre-Session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where they submitted a stakeholder report in relation to Nigeria’s Universal Periodic Review. It was the first time ever that the rights of intersex people in Nigeria were specifically put up for universal review at the UN level. Among other things, Intersex Nigeria is calling on Nigeria to implement the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Resolution on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Intersex Persons in Africa (Resolution 552), which was adopted in 2023 

‘We have made allies’ 

Most of Intersex Nigeria’s work takes place at the grassroots level, in dialogues with health care providers, religious and traditional leaders, and community stakeholders. The group also distributes toolkits to educate key stakeholders about intersex people and their rights. ‘Health care workers see intersex as a disease or a disorder that has to be fixed,’ explains Aliu-Kadiri. ‘We sensitise them and help them understand that sex is not a binary. It’s quite challenging, but we’ve gotten positive feedback. We’ve made allies in local communities who will speak up for intersex people’s rights even when we’re not there.’ The group organised a media training in 2023 with the aim of sharing the intersex human rights perspective and countering the narrative that intersex children are a ‘medical problem to be fixed’. Intersex Nigeria has already started receiving calls from people, including parents, seeking information and guidance for intersex children. 

Intersex Nigeria also undertook two groundbreaking research projects in 2023: a baseline study of the situation for intersex people in Cameroon and Nigeria, and a study of intersex genital mutilation in the two countries. The latter will be published in 2024, and shows that the practice is prevalent, largely due to the role of health care workers. The research underscores the need for health care workers to provide accurate, objective information to parents of intersex children, and to provide gender-affirming health care. ‘It showed the need for escalating our advocacy to a higher level, says Chukwuike. ‘People are being forced into a gender they may not be comfortable with. 

Through their ‘Engage, Encourage and Empower’ training programme, Intersex Nigeria supports young intersex and LGBT people in navigating social injustice and threats to their safety and security. ‘Intersex people share with us how difficult it is for them to find a job and to communicate with their families and their communities. We’re helping them strengthen their life competence skills, their soft skills,’ explains Chukwuike. 

Intersex Nigeria describes Mama Cash as a very flexible funder. ‘They have an openness that I really like,’ says AliuKadiri. ‘They’ve always showed that feminist principle, which I admire and respect. If something’s not working, we can reach out.’