On Monday 8 March 2021, Iranti hosted an online press briefing for invited journalists and media houses to outline the proposed Identity Management Policy gazetted by the Department of Home Affairs.
The deadline for public submissions to email@example.com had been extended to 15 March, and with the proposal having already garnered significant attention from the media, Iranti expected another spike in reporting in the final week.
The proposal by Home Affairs put forward significant amendments to a range of departmental processes and systems, but it was the proposed third option for gender markers which captured the attention of the public and activists across the country.
As it stands, the seventh digit of your ID number codes for gender, which 0-4 meaning you are legally recognised as female while 5-9 means you are legally recognised as male. This excludes many gender-diverse persons who identify as neither, and contributes to such human rights violations as non-consensual surgery on newborns with ambiguous genitalia in order to fit them into the M or F boxes, often condemning them to a lifetime of health issues.
For this reason, many organisations in a coalition of trans activists – already engaged with Home Affairs since September 2020 – have lauded the proposal for its forward-thinking, human rights based approach to the documentation of gender in South Africa, and further called on the department to designate this third category as “undefined” in order to prevent the violent targeting of trans, intersex and gender diverse persons who may be associated most with a “third gender”. Such a designation would also mean that any person ought to be eligible for the third option should they not want to be publicly and legally designated as male and female for any reason.
It was noted, however, that while the clear majority of media outlets had set out to report on this issue with significant sympathy for and deference to the trans, gender-diverse and intersex communities, there was a significant lack of nuance and clear understanding of the issues at hand and of Iranti’s specific advocacy goals. The third option was, for example, referred to over and over again as a “third gender”, which would not be an accurate descriptor for a country as socially and culturally diverse as South Africa.
The webinar thus sought to rectify these issues, encourage more media outlets to report on the matter, and to offer a panel of experts to reporters in such a way that a diversity of valuable sources could be easily accessed.
The Department of Home Affairs was represented by Chief Director Sihle Mthiyane and Dr Aaron Ramodumo. Mthiyane outlined the proposal for attendees, and acknowledged that the Department had already started the work of learning from the feedback of trans and gender-diverse activists.
“If you are non-binary, transgender or intersex then you are not catered for in the case of the [current] ID number. This is contested and is an issue we are engaged with,” said Mthiyane. “People must be able to identify the way they are, not as the state dictates.”
Also in attendance was Dr B Camminga, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the African Centre for Migration & Society at Wits University. Dr Camminga, a longtime friend and ally of Iranti, had spent several months conducting research and public engagements around what a third gender-marker option may look like, and offered invaluable insights into the benefits that such a policy – if properly designed – would have for gender-diverse communities.
Legal expertise and the impacts that the proposed changes would have on existing legislation were put forth by Mandi Mudarikwa of the Women’s Legal Centre, while Crystal Hendricks of Intersex South Africa and Sibusiso Kheswa of Iranti spoke from the intersex and trans activist perspective respectively, outlining to attendees the reasons the proposed amendments are welcome, and the specific advocacy goals of their respective organisations.
“Society has already tried to erase intersex people by saying we do not exist,” noted Hendricks. “Now, being linked to a third gender will cause further isolation, I think [because] being intersex obviously has nothing to do with your gender identity”.
The session has been recorded and is now available to watch on Iranti’s YouTube channel or below as a public resource for anyone seeking to make submissions or report on the ongoing Legal Gender Recognition reforms South Africa seems set to adopt.
You can also read more on this matter from web briefing attendees here: