The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS and Namibia Women's Health Network began documenting this practice in 2007 following a series of workshops they held with young HIV positive women. At the workshop, women started speaking about how in one case a woman went to the hospital to give birth and while being wheeled into the operation theatre, she was asked to sign a stack of papers among them a consent form for sterilization. There are cases documented from as far back as 2001 and yet no one realized this was happening until now.
The Legal Assistance Centre with assistance from the ICW and its partners are taking the case of three such women to court in Namibia. Women who have been allegedly coercively sterilized have sued the Government of Namibia for a violation of their constitutional rights to dignity, be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, found a family and be free from discrimination.
In 2007, reports surfaced of cases in which women seeking medical care were allegedly subjected to sterilisation without informed consent at state hospitals in two of the thirteen regions of Namibia. Since February 2008, fifteen individual cases have been documented, which appear to be merely the tip of the iceberg.
We, citizens and civil society organisations from Namibia and around the globe, condemn the alleged sterilisation of women living with HIV without their consent in public health facilities in Namibia and call for an end to this practice.
We believe that numerous human rights have been violated, including those guaranteed and protected under the Namibian Constitution and international treaties. These include, but are not limited to, the right to liberty and security of the person; to health, to found a family, including reproductive health; to family planning; to privacy; to equality; to freedom from discrimination; and to life.
We call on government to send a clear message that it will not tolerate the violation of any woman’s fundamental right to make free and informed decisions about her own body and health, particularly with regard to reproductive choices, and further that it is actively pursuing initiatives to end the discrimination against people living with HIV. We hope this will mark an end to this flagrant violation of HIV-positive women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Namibia.
In order to ensure that these violations of rights do not occur in the future, we ask that the Namibian government:
1. Immediately issue a circular to both public and private health facilities explicitly prohibiting the practice of sterilisation without informed consent and and clearly laying out the correct procedure that needs to be followed for obtaining informed consent;
2. Review and update current reproductive health policies and guidelines to reflect the same;
3. Train health care workers on the rights of patients, including the right to informed consent;
4. Ensure that all health care workers receive adequate training about the need for patients to receive quality and non-discriminatory medical care, regardless of their HIV status;
5. Conduct a public awareness campaign on this issue, particularly on patients’ rights and the responsibilities of medical personnel in general;
6. Establish an effective and accessible complaint mechanisms for reporting violations of patients’ rights; and
7. Conduct a public inquiry on the issue of sterilisation without informed consent and ensure that women who have been sterilised receive just and fair compensation for their loss, including the option of sterilisation reversal.