December 1, 2020

EastAfrica Herald

East African Views on Global News.

Women seek justice over sterilisation

Over 40 HIV-postive women who were allegedly sterilized
against their will go to court to demand justice and possible compensation. The
chairperson of the National Gender and Equality Commission Winfred Lichuma who
is championing the women’s cause described what happened to the women as
“atrocious an infringement of their human rights and contrary to medical
ethics.” “Those responsible should be punished to the fullest extent
of the law,” Lichuma said during the launch of a report on coerced
sterilization of HIV women by medical personnel. The study was conducted
this year in Kakamega and Nairobi.

According to the report, most of the forced sterelisations
—75 per cent— were conducted in public hospitals while the rest were carried
out in private hospitals. Majority of the women are from low income cadres of
society. Most of them claim they were not aware and did not understand what
they were being asked to sign as they were in active and difficult labour at
the time. Some of the women were also unconscious and could therefore not give
consent or are illiterate and were asked to sign a document which turned out to
be an authorization for the procedures.
In some instances, some of the women especially those whose
operations were done in the public hospitals, were told that the procedure was
government mandated for all HIV-positive women. According to the report—Robbed
of Choice: Forced and Coerced Sterilization Experiences of Women Living with
HIV in Kenya— some of the women were also told threatened with having their
supply of anti-retroviral drugs stopped if they did not agree to the operation.
Yesterday, some of the women victims— majority of them in
their mid-to late-20s narrated how they have had to endure a life of loneliness
and ostracism as they could no longer have children. “Most of the men who have
approached me for marriage want children. The moment they realize l cannot have
babies, they leave,” Ruth Achieng, a survivor of the coerced sterilization who
lives in Nairobi’s Kibera slums said.
The women also suffer from other post-sterilisation
complications which include the inability to have monthly menstrual cycles
apart from marriage break-ups. “Most of these people continue to live in pain
silently, as they fear talking about their conditions as a result of
stigmatization and discrimination,” Faith Kasiva, the lead researcher of the
African Gender and Media Initiative which conducted the survey. She called for
an all-inclusive public awareness campaign on reproductive health rights and
choices for women living with HIV, to enable them make informed choices.
Lichuma said the commission will push for the rights of the
women to get access to their medical records to help them in their court case
which will demand among others, a reversal of the operation or compensation
where this is not possible. Forced sterilisation is also considered a crime against
humanity under the Rome Statute and is prosecutable by the International
Criminal Court. The issue of forced sterilization is neither small nor new in
African according to the international lobby group, Stop Torture in Health.
There are several cases pending before the courts in Zambia, South Africa,
Malawi and Nambinia.
Just last month, a court in Namibia ruled it was illegal for
the government to sterilize without their consent, three HIV-positive women.
The court rejected the government’s claims that the sterilisations had been
consensual and said poor record keeping in the hospitals had left the women
with no defense, and rejected the government’s claims that the sterilizations
had been consensual. 
The court stopped short of ruling that the pattern of forced
sterilizations of HIV-positive women in Namibia constituted discrimination and
is yet to decide on the women’s demand of compensation amounting to US$150,000
(Sh12.5 million). In 2009, Rwanda was forced to withdraw a Bill that would have
made AIDs-testing compulsory and permitted the forced sterilization for
people deemed to be mentally disabled. Sterilisation is usually an irreversible
operation.  It is possible to have a tubal ligation reversed, but its
success will depend on the method used. It is also a very costly affair and the
success rate is usually not very promising 
Source: Report by Henry Kibira as reported on The Star