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.