HIV positive women in Namibia are being coercively sterilized at public hospitals. In 2008 the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS [ICW] held a series of workshops with HIV positive women in Namibia in which the women spoke of the practice of coercing women into being sterilised. The practice has been traced back as far as 2001 and following the workshops the ICW began to document the practice.
So far some 15 women have sued the Government of Namibia for
“violation of their constitutional rights to dignity, to free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, found a family and be free from discrimination”.
The scenario is as follows:
A young pregnant woman goes to the local public hospital to give birth. At the hospital, she is told by the medical personnel that she has to have a caesarean delivery to ensure her and the baby’s health. She is also informed that the hospital will not perform this necessary caesarean section unless she also agrees to be sterilized. She conveys to the medical personnel that she does not want to be sterilized as she would like to have the option of having additional children in the future. The doctor refuses to perform the caesarean unless she agrees. She feels she has no option and in order to maintain her and the baby’s health she agrees to be sterilized.
The sterilization of women without informed consent is an act of violence against women – a violation of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The right to make decisions about our bodies, the right to satisfying and safe sex and the right to safe and accessible health care. Women are being literally tricked into signing sterilization consent forms by handing them a pack of forms one of which is for steriziation, without any explanation. Only after the operation would she then realise that she had been sterizled. These forced sterilizations are taking place mostly against poor women and within the public health system which is supposed to be there to provide care for women who are most vulnerable due to their HIV status.