Deciding whether or not to have a child is a decision that for many requires considerable thought. Yes, there are some women who inherently know they do not want to be mothers, but for others the decision is much more complicated. Either way it is a choice.
What if that choice was taken away from you?
Three women in Namibia were robbed of this choice when they were sterilized without their consent after giving birth. The three HIV-positive women sued the state hospitals where they were sterilized, arguing that the procedure was done because of their HIV-positive status.
Yesterday, a Namibian court ruled that while the women were sterilized without their informed consent there was not enough evidence to link the sterilization to their HIV-positive status. Research, however, indicates that doctors working for the state have reported that they were just following government guidelines which require them to sterilize any woman who tests positive for HIV. The government on the other hand denies such a policy exists.
Being forcibly sterilized in a country like Namibia carries greater implications for women than the just the physical aspect. Culturally these women are also stigmatized. Being an HIV-positive woman who is also sterilized, doubles the discrimination these women face in their communities.
This case is not unique. The AIDS Law Unit at the Legal Assistance Centre is representing 18 other women who they allege were sterilized without their consent. In addition, another study from the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS and the Namibia Women’s Health Network has uncovered 40 additional cases across the country.
Perhaps with other women coming forward and sharing their stories, a case for discrimination against HIV-positive women can be made in the future.
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