The ICoZ Family and Their Stories

2019

In September 2019, a group of seven intersex people and the mother of an intersex child came together in Harare, most of them being from the suburban city of Chitungwiza. COC Nederland facilitated the community dialogue which aimed at better understanding the situation and needs of the intersex community of Zimbabwe. The Intersex Community of […]

In September 2019, a group of seven intersex people and the mother of an intersex child came together in Harare, most of them being from the suburban city of Chitungwiza. COC Nederland facilitated the community dialogue which aimed at better understanding the situation and needs of the intersex community of Zimbabwe. The Intersex Community of Zimbabwe (ICoZ) was established in October 2018 after somewhat frustrated attempts to join and collaborate with LGBT organisations in the country. It is currently led by an intersex activist known as Ronika (Ronie). They are a powerhouse, the true core of the ICoZ family. In their words,

“First we targeted the LGBT community and educated them. For me, the hardest thing was trying to find acceptance by the LGBT community. I thought I belonged to that family. We soon realised that they were not ready to sit with us and learn about us and let us share our stories. We decided to change our strategy, and targeted our own communities where we come from first. That is, our moms, families, and friends. Soon we understood what it means to be intersex in Zimbabwe. I’ve seen the power of information changing lives and mind-sets, and the power of sharing our stories.”

With the support of COC Nederland, ICoZ created a project focused on the sensitisation of health care workers and the members of their community. By doing so, they experienced resistance but also opportunities from those targeted by the project. Medical staff often refer to intersex people as “gay”, “lesbian” or “transgender” which are highly criminalised identities in the country. There is currently no medical protocol or health guidelines to serve the needs of the intersex community in Zimbabwe.

ICoZ is primarily concerned with the wellbeing and integrity of their community members, and most of their activities include artivism, music, poetry and painting. In one year (from 2018-2019) and with limited funding, ICoZ became one of the most prominent intersex groups in Africa. In 2019, they attended the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) meeting in Banjul, The Gambia. They are now engaging with ICASA 2019 to be hosted in Kigali, Rwanda.

In the dialogue we had, the following issues came up illustrating the hardship of the lives of intersex people in Zimbabwe:

  • Feelings of isolation
  • Verbal violence
  • Problems in finding relationships in order to get married and have a family
  • Abandonment
  • Mental health issues
  • Problematic drug and alcohol use
  • Suicide
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Rights violation
  • Physical mutilation
  • Bullying at school
  • Blackmail in relationships
  • Infanticides and killings of intersex people
  • Travel complications and restrictions

Some members of this community also experienced situations of trauma due to multiple forms of discrimination in the intersections of marginalisation including disability. Although most people in the group live in poverty, the issues raised were only aggravated by it.

Another participant said: “It was difficult since day one. I dropped out of sports class due to bullying. I considered both suicide and drugs”. A mother, present in the room with her intersex child, said: “The doctors experiment with people’s lives. Because my child was born intersex, the father left me. I am now a single mom. Fathers don’t want problems. My child had eight operations and now I am in debt. Out of those eight operations, still nothing was fixed.” Another participant said, regretfully, “I am a living taboo”.

Despite the pain and anger, the participants also highlighted the positive experiences they have had because they are intersex. One participant said, “Intersex people don’t see how beautiful they are. We are like limited edition”. Others expressed their gratitude for having met with people who have helped them along this journey.

We closed our conversation with a warm, family-like chat over chicken and chips. We smiled, hugged each other and promised ourselves a better future.

Written by: Dennis van Wanrooij