Three women in Namibia are suing the state for sterilizing them without their consent after being diagnosed as being HIV-positive.
The Legal Assistance Center, a human rights group which is representing them, claims that since 2008, it has recorded 15 cases of forced sterilization. Amon Ngavetene of LAC explained that besides the fact that women are not informed of the procedure and its health risks, there is often a language barrier since 11 different languages are spoken in Namibia.
A march took place in the capital of Windhoekon, and on June 2 the women staged a sit-in in front of the two hospitals responsible for the sterilizations. Marches in solidarity are also being planned in South Africa, Zambia, the UK and the US.
Sadly, this case is not unique. A year ago Rwanda came under fire for allegedly drafting plans to sterilize the mentally disabled. In rural Peru, hundreds of thousands of indigenous women were targeted as part of former President Fujimori’s family planning initiative. In 2002, after Fujimori had left office, over 200,000 women were pressured into sterilization after being told misleading information and threatened with fines. Cases have also been documented in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and South Africa, where a fourteen year old girl was told she could have an abortion only if she was sterilized afterwards.
Last year the International Community of Women Living with HIV/Aids (ICW) accused the Namibian government of coercing women to be sterilized. Coordinator Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet explains that besides being an assault on women’s reproductive rights, forced sterilization also negatively affects a woman’s role in society. “In African culture, if you are not able to have children, you are ostracized. It’s worse than having HIV.”
Unsurprisingly, the hospitals are denying the Namibian women’s allegations, who are asking for 1 million Namibian dollars (approximately $132,000) in compensation.