LGBTQIA+ community wants Stats SA to amend 'exclusionary' census question on sex

The 2022 online census questionnaire asks a question relating to sex and not gender, providing only two options; male and female.

Statistician general Risenga Maluleke. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG - As Statistics South Africa begins its fourth population census on Thursday, South Africa’s LGBQTIA+ community has criticised the population count for not accurately accounting for some South African minority groups.

This is South Africa’s fourth population count and it is set to conclude on 28 February 2022.

The 2022 online census questionnaire asks a question relating to sex and not gender, providing only two options; male and female.

Sex refers to the biological makeup of one’s sex organs only, meaning that intersex people would be left out of the data.

Speaking to Eyewitness News, Nolwazi Tusini from LGBTQIA+ advocacy group Iranti, however, on Wednesday said that the focus on the sex assigned at birth would exclude intersex and transgender people which will distort the data of the census.

“By asking this question and giving only the option of male or female, this is excluding and therefore not counting intersex people because there are people whose sex makeup is neither male nor female but is intersex,” Tusini said.

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As 165,000 field workers head out to 17 million households for the 2022 census, Iranti has criticised Stats SA for asking a question only relating to sex and only giving a male and female option.

The organisation has also raised concerns about the exclusion of gender from the questionnaire.

Tusini said: “This excludes transgender people, because sex and gender are not the same thing. Sex is the biological makeup of how your body arrives in the world and the physical characteristics and gender is a socially constructed idea. And so, someone’s sex and someone’s gender can be different. So if you are a transgender woman, filling out this questionnaire then becomes difficult because it only asks whether you are male or female and not whether you are man or woman. And transgender women for example are women and should be counted as such,” Tusini explained.

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Tusini said if trans women, for instance, are only counted based on their sex assigned at birth and not gender, this means that the data on the number of women in the country will be inaccurate.

“And any conclusion that is drawn relating to gender of women, men and in fact nonbinary people, will be inaccurate,” Tusini said.

Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke told Eyewitness News that they were aware of the concerns raised by Iranti but they were currently bound by the law to ask questions only relating to sex.

“In our case, we are not the ones dictating the laws in our country. Our job is to go and measure and look at the inclusion of 15-year-olds in the Quarterly Labour Force Survey. The law is clear that it is illegal to hire anybody under the age of 15. We are aware that the point that is being raised is being aired with our colleagues at Home Affairs,” Maluleke said.

Maluleke said that matters relating to gender may require a unique survey that may help with identifying and addressing different societal issues and needs.

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Iranti insists that it is crucial for Stats SA to amend its question on sex on its census survey.

The 2022 online census questionnaire does not have an option for intersex people to choose from.

Maluleke said that focusing on sex alone was in line with the United Nations’ guidelines on population and housing censuses.

“So we are not asking the gender question in this regard. And indeed, once this matter finds resonance in the nation going forward, we will take it forward accordingly. It is not our intention to exclude anyone,” he said.

Maluleke acknowledges that the exclusion of gender and an intersex option in the 2022 census questionnaire may make trans and intersex people feel uncomfortable.

But he argued that the question was in line with the UN guidelines on population and houses census.

However, Tusini said that this question needed to be amended in order to reflect accurate data on biological sex assigned at birth.

“Our argument is that if the question is about sex, then you need to do it properly and you therefore need to provide for intersex people. If you are going to ask about sex and you want a proper picture of what people’s biological sex or sex assigned at birth looks like in this country, then you need to put in the option for intersex people. Part of the reason why censuses are done, is to meet the demands of the millennium development goal. The millennium development goal has since been made to become the sustainment development goal and that speaks about equality and the fact that LGBQTIA persons have been excluded from society and this needs to be rectified,” Tusini said.

While Tusini has argued that Stats SA not amending the question, may have an impact on the data collected, Maluleke has, however, assured that the data of the census will not be distorted and will be reliable.

“There are a lot of checks and balances that we put in place. After we have collected this, we will go on a post enumeration survey and there are a lot of things that go in our analysis that should not cause fears and worry about the quality of the data produced by Stats SA,” the Statistician-General said.