Seriously Namibia? Forcible Sterilization of Women?

June 26, 2009

BTL stands for bitubal ligation, or surgical sterilization of women by damaging the fallopian tubes. It was reported yesterday that the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) has documented cases of HIV positive women undergoing coerced or forced sterilizations dating back to at least January 2008. Two of the women who say they underwent these sterilizations have filed legal suit against the Namibian government.

The issue involves lack of consent. The women report being told they need to have surgery and “signed consent forms to undergo what was simply listed on their health documents as a “BTL” without fully understanding its implications.” Women were also frequently provided consent forms in English rather than their home language and so were therefore not fully informed regarding the nature of the procedure. The Namibian Ministry of Health and Human Services has thus far declined to comment.

Namibia has a 15% HIV infection rate, one of the highest in the world. Yet, this does not even come close to justifying denying a woman the right to have a child. Children are born healthy every day to HIV positive women thanks to drugs that help prevent mother to child transmission. And while this seems egregious, forced sterilizations have occurred in the past and present in concentration camps, to disabled women and  indigenous populations. But really, Namibia. How about rising a step above and honoring your committments as a ratifier of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Seriously.