Intersex Zimbabweans struggle to access Covid-19 vaccines

By Kenneth Matimaire 

Intersex Zimbabweans are struggling to access Covid-19 vaccines because most of them do not have identity documents which are prerequisites at vaccination centres, it has emerged.

People seeking Covid-19 vaccines are required to either produce a national identity document (ID), driver’s license or valid passport before they are served.

Ronie Zuze, Intersex Community of Zimbabwe(ICoZ) director, said the requirement for people to produce identity documents has become a serious barrier for Covid-19 vaccination.

“The (intersex) community has been facing challenges in accessing Covid-19 vaccines from the government health care providers ever since the programme started,” Zuze said.

“The main contributing factor is that of the requirement for people to produce national identity documents to be vaccinated, most intersex persons do not have legal documentation.” 

He said most intersex persons struggled to get identity documents because of their physical appearances as Zimbabwe did not recognise their gender.

Pressure group, Advocates for Intersex Youth, says intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions whereby a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. 

For example, some individuals may be born with ambiguous genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types. 

Others might be born appearing to be female on the outside but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. 

There are up to 47 variants that distinguish intersex persons.

“For those who do not match their bodies, they are getting rejected as they are accused of using ID documents that don’t belong to them,” Zuze said.

He said the discrimination was not new as members of the intersex community are routinely denied access to public health services in Zimbabwe.

“It is often difficult for me to explain myself every time I visit a health facility,” said an ICoZ member, who requested to remain anonymous.

“When they look at the particulars on my ID and the person they are looking at, it does not make sense to them.

“The humiliation is just too much. The same thing happened when I tried to get vaccinated, and I was turned away after going through that dehumanising experience.”

ICoZ said there were only 100 intersex persons in Zimbabwe that had come out in the open about their condition, while the majority choose to keep it to themselves fearing victimisation.

Betha Tsitsi Masvinga Ndabambi, Intersex Community Trust of Zimbabwe director, said some members of her organisation were struggling to get second doses of the Covid-19 vaccines due to shortages in centres close to them.

Zimbabwe is largely using the Chinese produced Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines that require people to take two doses.

“Some only managed to get the first dose and others, who got it are struggling to get the second one depending on the areas where they are accessing it,” Ndabambi said.

Zuze said the only solution to the problem of intersex persons being turned away from vaccination sites was for the authorities to recognise them and issue them with appropriate identity documents.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHCR), last year conducted an inquiry into access to national documentation where it mentioned that intersex persons in the country were not recognised at law.

Zimbabwe’s national identity documents are categorised into the conventional female and male sex categories without provision for intersex persons.

The ZHCR report said parents determine the sex of intersex children – sometimes with advice from health personnel – at an early age before the children are old enough to identify themselves as either male or female.

“The law does not accommodate intersex persons, who wish to change their sex on their identity documents as their bodies transform at puberty,” reads the report.

The ZHCR said while IDs may seem like an insignificant document, failure to acquire one leads to far reaching consequences and shuts doors to opportunities later in life. 

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