HIV positive women say forced sterilisation adds insult to injury

2015-03-18 17:24

Forty eight women who were forced or coerced into sterilisation because they were HIV-positive have lodged a formal complaint with the Commission for Gender Equality in Johannesburg.

The women, who were between the ages of 19 and 44 when they were sterilised, want the commission to investigate the discrimination faced by HIV positive pregnant women and provide some form of redress. They say they are not just looking for compensation for the violation of their rights and the trauma they suffered but want government to help them reverse the sterilisation and also assist them with fertility programmes.

Jane Hicks, representing the Commission, was supposed to receive the complaint but she did not show up in Rosebank where the briefing was held today.

Sethembiso Mthembu from Her Right Initiative, a non-governmental organisation which has been assisting the women, did not mince her words as she described the disappointment with the commission’s no show.

She said: “We are disappointed that the commission did not honour its commitment to come and receive this important complaint about the violation of the rights of women.”

“This complaint is very important to women living with HIV as they continue experiencing discrimination on the basis of their gender and HIV status. CGE should investigate this,” she said.

HRI together with Women’s Legal Centre have been fighting this battle on behalf of the 48 women for more than five years. In 2010 it brought the matter to the attention of the national department but with little impact.

The department demanded that the organisation conducts a study on the prevalence on coerced or forced sterilisation in the public healthcare sector. Findings (of the study) revealed that this was a widespread problem especially in the public sector with some cases going as far back as 1986.

See SA’s forced sterilisation shame.

There is no official government policy which recommends that HIV positive women must be sterilised. However, Mthembu believes that there might be a silent policy on this in a bid to reduce the maternal mortality and the number of babies born with HIV.

She described this as a very sad state of affairs as forced or coerced sterilisation has a dual impact on HIV positive women. “HIV positive women face double stigma – first for being HIV positive and then being unable to have children.”

Mthembu said while the women were looking for redress, “nothing can fully compensate them for what they have endured.”

She called on CGE to negotiate with the national department of health in this regard.

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