Giovanna Gilleri


In recent times, many international institutions have called upon States to stop medical sexing interventions, also known as ‘normalising’ surgeries, upon intersex children. These surgeries are treated under international human rights law as both violations of the rights of children, women, persons with disabilities, and forms of torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment. In absence of a comprehensive human rights conceptualisation, this article proposes a gender analysis of medical sexing interventions which would capture the socially and culturally-engrained grounds of the violation. The physically diverse intersex features seem to challenge the cultural norms which define sex/gender in dichotomous terms in the West. Surgeries are performed on individuals born with sex characteristics which do not conform to the typical male or female anatomy. The reconstruction of the intersex body through the surgery aims to restore the sex-stereotyped ‘harmony’ in compliance with the social binary-normativity. International human rights law has responded to forms of harmful practices which are at the intersection of gender and culture, including female genital mutilation. Equally, gender stereotyping is considered wrongful where societal norms based on stereotypical sex beliefs result in a violation of human rights (of women). Yet the law is silent on the gendered binary-normativity underpinning intersex-targeting abuses. It is argued that the failure to address the binary-normative rationale of the violation stems from the traditional metonymic (gender=women), dualistic (male/female) and asymmetrical (male>female) approaches to gender incorporated in international human rights law.