In Namibia and Beyond, Forced Sterilization is a Human Rights Violation


Last week on Akimbo, the IWHC blog, we posted about the discrimination often experienced by women who are HIV positive. Specifically, we highlighted a case
in Maine in which a judge issued an extended jail sentence for a
pregnant, HIV positive woman in violation of immigration law.  

This morning, we have a disturbing addendum to the list of rights
violations experienced by HIV positive women: forced sterilization.

An article
by Geoffrey York in today’s Globe and Mail  highlights the case of
Hilma Nendongo, an HIV positive woman who found out she had been
sterilized when she went back to the hospital to have stitches removed
after giving birth to a baby boy by Caesarian section.   

Hilma is not alone, according to York, who writes that "perhaps
hundreds" of women in Africa "have been sterilized without their
knowledge or consent in recent years because they were HIV-positive."
York describes the experience of several HIV positive women who
received bilateral tubal ligation, or sterilization, either unknowingly
or forcibly amidst pressure from their healthcare providers. In these
cases "consent" is often obtained by having illiterate patients sign
forms that they are unable to  understand, without explanation of the
procedure to which they’ll then be subjected, as well as incorrectly
informing patients that the sterilization operation is mandatory if
they want to stay alive, or if they want medical assistance in
delivering their baby.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that Namibia
is not the only country in which such rights violations are taking
place. Cases have been reported in countries all over the world, from
Congo and South Africa to the United States. Angela Castellanos reports on RHRealityCheck.org that in Chile, a woman living with HIV and sterilized without her consent filed a complaint against before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) last February, charging that the government failed to protect her from being forcibly sterilized.

The pervasive nature of this tragic and infuriating global
phenomenon confirms that this is more than a few cases of bad
healthcare advice or doctor manipulation: this is an issue of women’s
health and human rights being blatantly and consistently undermined,
ignored, and violated due to the stigma, discrimination, and
misinformation associated with HIV/AIDS.

And so, as tragic as the cases of forced sterilization of HIV
positive women documented by York in Namibia are, we must remember that
they are not just tragic. As outrageous, blatant, and infuriating as they are, they are not only these things. Forced sterilization of a woman- any woman, regardless of her HIV status- is a violation of every woman’s fundamental human right to sexual and reproductive autonomy.
The right of women to control their sexuality-the basis for sexual
rights-is an indivisible part of their human rights, and without it,
women cannot fully realize their other human rights.

Doctors and healthcare providers- in Namibia and around the world-
must be held accountable for delivering respectful and consensual
healthcare. Stigma, discrimination, and misinformation cannot be
allowed to continue to stand in the way of ensuring the basic human
rights of women around the world.

Check out this report
issued in March by the International Community of Women Living With
HIV/AIDS (ICW) for more information on forced sterilization in Namibia.

Author’s note: The reader diary originally misquoted York as attributing "perhaps hundreds" of forced sterilizations to Namibia rather than to Africa at large, and has been updated to reflect these changes.

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  • carrilte

     

     Please do not take this wrong, but I believe every women has the right and responsibilty to act responsible when haveing sex. I do believe that most women today know that sex leads to babies and when they open their legs it is at that moment both man and women should be prepared to handle their buisness with out the thought of murder against the unknown victim (child). To ban abortion is the most appropriate and humane thing to do for everyone involved. If the mother decided to abort a child than it would be appropiate for her to consider the consequences of her actions thoroughly before ever considering such actions.There is nothing wrong with making an individual act responsible and to expect them to do the right thing. If someone were to commit an offense against you, would you not want them to do the right thing? I would hope if you have children that you would not allow them to act  irresponsibly and then right it off as nothing, what would that child gain from not takeing responsiblilty? We know that it would lead to the childs destruction. Just as abortion for a women only becomes an easy and irresponsible method of birth control that leads to more hurt and pain for the mother and her victim.  

     

     

    Back to Basix

  • invalid-0

    These forced sterilizations are a horrendous violation of a woman’s Human rights. It is sad the the eugenic idea that helped lead to the spread of sterilizations around the world started in our own backyard. Even Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margret Sanger, promoted Birth Control and sterilization for the “feebleminded.” Something has got to be done about these violations. We have to start making some noise.

    I also agree with carrilte. A woman has all the right in the world to determine who she has sex with and when, but the choices she makes are her choices. All of them will have results, and a natural result of sex is pregnancy. I think that groups like Planned Parenthood need to push and emphasis abstinence (at least until a fully committed relationship) while they teach men and women how to be safe when they finally make the decision to have sex. They also need to make it very clear that there is no foolproof form of birth control or STD prevention except for abstinence. If the woman chooses to have sex, then they need to accept any forthcoming results.

    I think that pro-life and pro-choice groups could work together on raising awareness about forced sterilizations around the world. It is even more than a “could” they “should.” Maybe if we start working together, then we could stop all the animosity between us and work towards actually reducing abortions and educating people about the safety and nature of sex.

  • invalid-0

    If the woman chooses to have sex, then they need to accept any forthcoming results.

    Uh, no, they don’t, actually. If a woman gets an STD, she can get treatment for it. If she gets pregnant, then she can get an abortion. You may not like it if she does, but that is completely and utterly irrelevant. It’s available, it’s legal, and it’s really none of your business what she “accepts” or not.

    • http://hi-architecture.blogspot.com/ invalid-0

      I, to tell the truth, do not understand those who does abortion. Well once happens: in a youth when mum knew nothing; or for what reason. The woman thus repents, very much regrets for the happened. Also it starts to be protected. Everything, more abortions are not present. But when abortion becomes a protection method, I do not understand it. In hospitals often I see, how the woman lays down «on the» a bed, to the “” doctor. It has already learnt road to an office for abortions. She knows all, all greets. I do not understand one, really so it is difficult to insert a spiral for 7 years or still how to be protected???

  • http://www.travestisohbet.net invalid-0

    Hilma is not alone, according to York, who writes that “perhaps hundreds” of women in Africa “have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent in recent years because they were HIV-positive.”

  • invalid-0

    Why shouldn’t HIV positive women be sterilized??????? They may infect the child and it’s hard enough to rear a child without having a terminal illness!!!!!!!!!!!

    It’s a violation of common sense and ethics NOT to sterilize an HIV positive person!!!

  • http://www.viptravesti.net invalid-0

    In these cases “consent” is often obtained by having illiterate patients sign forms that they are unable to understand, without explanation of the procedure to which they’ll then be subjected, as well as incorrectly informing patients that the sterilization operation is mandatory if they want to stay alive, or if they want medical assistance in delivering their baby.