Conference Highlights Problem of Forced Sterilization
Tuesday, October 2, 2012 3:35 PM

Although coercive sterilization is internationally condemned by 119 countries that have signed The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), thousands of girls and women around the world are still denied the right to decide about their own reproduction. Involuntary sterilization occurs in regions with many different cultural backgrounds, including the United States, Switzerland, Japan, China, Puerto Rico, Brazil and others. According to Luisa Cabal, vice president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, involuntary sterilization “has historically targeted… marginalised groups of women such as women with disabilities, women from ethnic minorities, low income women and women living with HIV." The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 15 percent of the global population have disabilities and disabled women are particularly vulnerable to coercive sterilization. Justifications for involuntarily sterilizing disabled women include inability to parent, protection from sexual exploitation, population control and so-called menstrual management.
Some measures are being taken to curb involuntary sterilization. The CRPD, adopted in 2006, recognizes that disabled individuals have the right to make free and responsible decisions regarding their reproductive lives. These and other rights were discussed at the Fifth Session of the Conference of State Parties to the CRPD. Jordan’s ambassador and permanent representative to the U.N., Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, highlited the importance of Jordan’s Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities in raising awareness of and advocating for the rights of Jordanian disabled women who are subject to involuntary sterilization. One of the best examples of how involuntary sterilization can be effectively tackled by international institutions is a case, Gauer and Others v. France, brought to the European Court of Human Rights in 2011by five women with mental disabilities, each of whom had involuntarily undergone tubal ligation without their informed consent.
Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum, stated that “States are under an obligation to take measures to prevent such violations and to investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent when they do occur.” Erszébet Földesi, the vice president of the European Disability Forum, asserted that in order to prevent forced sterilizations, it is extremely important to provide disabled women with appropriate information regarding their sexual and reproductive options and to obtain their free, full and informed consent. She said that health professionals must be better trained to assist women with disabilities, and victims must have access to “recovery, rehabilitation and social integration.” According to Ms. Földesi, it is very important to highlight the issue to raise the awareness of the society and policymakers about coercive sterilizations.
Compiled from: Stawecka, Malgorzata, “Involuntary Sterilisation Threatens Rights of Disabled Women Inter Press Service (published online Sep 20, 2012).