March 23, 2015
Three women’s rights advocacy groups in South Africa have lodged a formal complaint with the South African Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) protesting the “ongoing forced/coerced sterilisation of women living with HIV in South Africa”.
The complaint is based on 48 documented cases where HIV-positive women were sterilised without their consent or coerced into signing a consent form for sterilisation. They have been collected since 2011 by one of the three groups, Her Rights Initiative (HRI), and the University of Kwazulu-Natal Health Economics and HIV Research Division. These cases reportedly took place in the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal between 1986 and 2014.
No informed consent
Most of the women say they were coerced into signing consent papers while they were in labour. Some say doctors refused to help them deliver their babies if they didn’t sign. An anonymous HIV-positive woman, who was 19 years old and 38 weeks pregnant when she was sterilised, said that her doctor offered to sterilise her during a routine consultation:
“As I was thinking about it, the doctor turned to this lady who was with her, I think she was an intern, and said we [referring to HIV-positive women] were a problem to the hospitals, we give birth all the time … at that time I felt guilty as a patient. Then the doctor came back and asked me if I wanted to be sterilised and I said yes.”
To fix this problem, the advocacy groups demand that the CGE launch an investigation into documented cases of forced and coerced sterilisation. They further call for reforms in laws and training of healthcare workers, and redress for victims of illegal sterilisations.