Southern Africa: More Women Forcibly Sterilized After Testing Positive for HIV
Thursday, September 2, 2010 11:55 AM

Women’s rights organizations in South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia have discovered that some HIV-positive women have suffered from the practice of forced or coerced sterilization by health care professionals. Current prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) treatment for HIV-positive mothers reduces the chance of transmission of HIV to the child to less than five percent. While some cases did occur before PMTCT became available, women are still being subjected to forced sterilization even now that PMTCT is available. Though some women do sign a consent form prior to the sterilization procedure, many women either do not understand the consequences of the operation, or they feel they do not have a choice in signing. According to Mushahida Adhikari, a Women's Legal Centre attorney in Cape Town, "A lot of women didn't know it was wrong that they'd been sterilized."  Performing a medical procedure without informed consent is a serious human rights violation in any circumstance.


Many women feel the stigmatization of not being able to have children is greater than that of being HIV-positive and are reluctant to tell family members or to seek justice. Reversal of sterilization may or may not be possible for women, depending on how the original procedure was carried out. Local and international human rights organizations are helping women seek justice. Three Namibian women who are taking legal action will have their cases heard by the High Court in September, and women’s rights activists in South Africa are collecting cases in order to bring their own suit to the South African High Court.


Compiled From: “Southern Africa: More sterilizations of HIV-positive women uncovered,” IRINI News, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, (2 September 2010).