Mobilising for Intersex Rights in Iceland


Daniela Alaattinoğlu is the fourth lecturer of the RIKK – Institute for Gender, Equality and Difference and GRÓ-GEST lecture series Queer Iceland in an International Context in spring 2022. Daniela’s lecture is titled “Mobilising for Intersex Rights in Iceland”. The lecture is held Thursday 24 February at 12.00 at the Lecture Hall of the National Museum and is streamed live.

Since the mid-20th century until today, a predominant medical approach in industrialised countries to intersex people – people born with variations in sex characteristics that cannot easily be classified as ‘male’ or ‘female’ – has been that of pathologization. Considered a pathology, the medical response has been ‘correction’, often through invasive medical interventions on infants. Iceland is here no exception. During the last decades, intersex human rights defenders have questioned the medical view that being born with variations in sex characteristics is, as such, an illness. During the latter half of the 2010s, Icelandic intersex human rights defenders mobilised in an organised form to improve the situation of intersex people and to stop non-consensual invasive medical interventions. In 2019–2020, important legal milestones were reached: sex characteristics were included in discrimination legislation, a third gender was introduced, and most importantly, medically unnecessary interventions on intersex children were prohibited (however with a few noteworthy exceptions). Today, the 2019 Icelandic Gender Autonomy Act is international best practice. This lecture investigates how Icelandic intersex human rights defenders successfully utilised rights instruments and discourse to mobilise and change the law and medical practices. Doing so, the paper particularly scrutinises how rights can be used as a tool for social movements to form grievances and provoke institutional response for a more inclusive law and society. Conclusively, the lecture asks what inherent limitations a rights-based approach carries when it comes to improving the position of intersex people.

Daniela Alaattinoğlu is an Icelandic Research Fund Postdoctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Law, University of Iceland. Her current research project investigates the mobilisation for intersex rights in the Nordic countries.

Daníel Arnarsson, Executive Director of Samtökin ’78, moderated the session.

Further information on the lecture series can be found on RIKK’s website – – and the institute’s Facebook-page. A recording of the lecture will be made available on the Humanities Department’s Youtube channel.