Boy Or Girl? Or In Between? Germany Debates Gender Category For 'Intersexuals'

Thousands of babies around the world are born each year without a sex-specific chromosome count, and that may have male or female genitalia – or a mix of both. Germany's top ethics board is deciding if such 'intersexuals' should

What color should a
What color should a


When Diana Hartmann was born in 1965, doctors couldn't answer the question: "Boy or girl?" The child was healthy, but, said the doctors, its sex was "unclear." Diana was somewhere on the scale between the two poles of man and woman. The doctors decided Diana should be a boy, but her mother saw a little girl in the infant – hence the name Diana. The doctors wanted to operate; her mother refused.

Hartmann's case isn't unique: every year, it is estimated that between 80 and 120 "intersexual" children are born in Germany. They don't have a sex-specific chromosome count, their hormones function differently than those of most people, and they may have male or female genitalia – or a mix of both. In a society where so much is dealt with based on firm distinctions between both genders, uncertainty in this regard causes a great deal of confusion among parents, doctors, and the authorities.

Since December 2010, the German National Ethics Council, mandated by the federal government, has been considering how they could ensure that these children live with dignity. They have been consulting with experts from the medical, legal and social science communities, as well as intersexuals themselves, and are due to publish their report in the coming weeks.

The two main issues are whether a "third sex" should be introduced, and whether operations to make intersexuals male or female should be performed – and, if so, at what age and under what conditions. In the past, intersexual children were operated on in their first year, the assumption being that to assign them to the male or female sex early on would prevent trauma down the line. The practice continues to this day.

Professor Olaf Hiort of the Schlweswig-Holstein University Clinic, a specialist in sexual development, believes guidelines need to be drawn up and special centers established to provide both guidance and information for doctors and the parents of intersexual children.

Medical historian Ulrike Klöppel of Berlin's Humboldt University points out that research up to now has been based on people born intersexual but then operated on to become male or female. "It should have been the other way round," she says. "The question should have been: ‘Do intersexuals who haven't been operated on have a poorer life experience?"" Klöppel believes that concerns should focus on what they believe would be helpful in their lives: "That would be scientific. The way things are now, it only goes in one direction and leaves no room for evidence against the prevailing approach."

Diana Hartmann also believes more information would be crucial – not for the purposes of medical treatment but to open up the subject of sex, sexuality and intersexuality. Nearly everybody, she believes, has some kind of problem with their appearance or their sexuality – "nobody can say ... I'm absolutely normal." That's why she has a lot of reservations on the subject of introducing a "third sex." Hartmann worries that it could just lead to yet further isolation for intersexual people. "Who belongs to a third sex? Who belongs to a first one, or a second one?"

Presently under German law, a child's particulars including gender – boy or girl – have to be registered within a week after birth. There can be extensions in exceptional cases, but not until a child reaches puberty. For this reason, many favor introducing a third box to check next to male/female – but what should it read?

Medical historian Klöppel would like to see the requirement to list sex dropped, or at least postponed so that everybody can decide for themselves what sex they want to be. For his part, Olaf Hiort thinks that it would make sense to determine under which conditions a division into two genders makes sense -- and when it doesn't.

"Is the baby healthy?" is usually the first question asked after a birth. But the second one – "Boy or girl?" – might be phrased differently in the future. Or be dropped altogether.

Read the full story in German by Danielle Bengsch

Photo - kristin_a

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!