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Intersex model Hanne Gaby Odiele. Wikicommons
this story is part of the 25-29 Dec 2017 Weekly Hindsight Read the hindsight

Austria could officially recognize the third sex 

Christine Tragler recommended by Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria

The Austrian Constitutional Court has scheduled a decision for 2018. But the Social Democratic Party of Austria and the liberal party "Neos" don't want to wait that long.

Austria Signs of the Times

Why this story matters:

politics, human rights

Male, female and inter. One out of every 500 newborns is born with ambiguous gender characteristics -- they are intersex individuals. In Germany, the Constitutional Court has ruled that in addition to male and female options, birth certificates should also comprise an option called “inter” or “various” in the future.

The Austrian Constitutional Court has scheduled a decision for 2018. But the Social Democratic Party of Austria and the liberal party "Neos" don't want to wait that long. Both parties want to start an initiative in the National Council for a ruling to be made as soon as possible.

Andreas Schieder of the Social Democratic Party of Austria spoke out in favor of imitating the German model. Nikolaus Scherak of the Neos Party said he "would not know what to say against it."

The Freedom Party and People's Party, who will probably form a ruling coalition, reacted differently: the former are against, the second are silent.

Meanwhile, the organizations Association of Intersex People Austria (Vimö), Plattform Intersex Österreich and Hosi Salzburg welcomed the decision of the German Constitutional Court.

"It is high time to acknowledge the rights of any person who does not identify exclusively as male or female, regardless of their gender characteristics," says Tobias Humer, of Vimö.

The Bioethics Commission is in favor as well. At its meeting at the end of October, the Advisory Committee in the Federal Chancellery adopted a unanimous opinion on intersexuality and trans-identity. The recommendations are intended to protect intersex people from unwanted medical interventions, support the parents of children affected and protect intersex and transgender people from discrimination.

"Every year, around 30 children whose sexual characteristics do not conform to the usual norms for male or female are born in Austria. Neither medicine nor the legal system take into account the fact that there is a third gender," says ombudsman Günther Kräuter.

While the debate in the Western world is still relatively young, the matter itself is a lot older: since the beginning of humanity, there have been people with characteristics of both genders. That some people were neither strictly male or female was already discussed around 385 BC. The Greek philosopher Plato once described the original nature of humans as including a third gender.

Details from the story:

  • Around 160,000 intersex people live in Germany. For Austria, the Association Intersex People Austria (Vimö) could not give an exact number number, but assumes the situation touches 0.5 percent of the population, hence 43,500 people.
  • In Germany, the Constitutional Court ruled last week that in future, apart from male and female, there should be the entry "inter" or "divers". The Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH) has announced it will give a ruling in 2018.
  • Sexual characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, gonads or external genitalia are not clearly assigned to a gender.

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