Forced Sterilization of HIV Positive Women Continues in Southern Africa

Forced sterilization of women whom governments or individual doctors deem to be unsuitable for procreation isn’t anything new.  Certain factions within the population control movements have over the years enforced a range of reproductive health policies that restrict women’s control over their bodies and their reproductive lives. In the last century these restrictions have included policies like China’s one child rule and the practice of sterilizing people with developmental disabilities in the United States.

Last July we wrote about the situation in Namibia, where the forced sterilization of HIV positive women is being documented and litigated. Namibia is not, however, the only African country where this human rights violation is taking place.

Today PlusNews has a report about the continued violations of women’s reproductive rights and health in Southern Africa. Sterilization is often conducted on unconscious, non-consenting women, or on illiterate women who are asked to sign a document which turns out to be an authorization for the procedure. Still others are told that sterilization of HIV positive women is government mandated.

Over the past year, several cases have gone to court in which women who have been sterilized are seeking redress and an end to forced sterilization. The cases are being filed  by the International Community for Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW), the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) in Namibia, and the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town, South Africa.

Sterilization without informed consent must be eradicated, but to do so there must be cooperation at several levels. Governments must pass policies that uphold sexual and reproductive rights, and justice must be served for women who have already undergone this procedure. Furthermore, it is important to keep the pressure on doctors who may elect to perform sterilizations without women’s informed consent.



6 responses to “Forced Sterilization of HIV Positive Women Continues in Southern Africa

  1. how can i get more details on the forced sterilizations in south africa. need some facts of how many cases have been reported, theb demographics of the women as well. please help. thanx.

  2. People might not like or agree with what I’m going to say, but I tend to say what I feel without restriction. That being said…
    I find it morally disgraceful and disgusting to knowingly become pregnant when you are positive with ANY disease that puts an unborn child at risk of contracting it without any regard. This means HI/AIDS, Hep B or C. Even being on a drug – be it prescribed or illegal – that will force a newborn into a painful and dangerous withdrawal process. Please do not skew my words into a rant about human rights, as this is ONLY in reference to knowingly putting a life at very high risk all the while, having the knowledge to prevent. I do exclude rape victims or the few ppl that are blindly unaware to their health for legitimate reasons. But for the rest, who is looking out for the unborn child that never asked to be born? If that same infected or sick or addicted person knowingly inflicts that same handicap onto an adult without consent, it would be a crime. Why is it not a crime to inflict it on the most defenseless of all? The unborn?

    1. Amy, I completely agree with you; but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. Some women are asking for birth control and being sterilized. With medication, there is a 2% chance that the baby will contract HIV from an infected mother during pregnancy ( On the other hand, consider the impact of sterilization in certain cultures. A woman’s inability to bear children is likely to result in abandonment and isolation, making it extremely difficult to provide for herself and any children she does have. Some see prostitution as their only means of survival. Honestly, I don’t know what else I would do if I were illiterate, had to provide for three children, abandoned by my husband, rejected by my family, and lived in a culture where women were unequal to men. It should also be noted that not all women being sterilized are HIV positive.

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