“I have performed a sterilisation procedure on you” .
Imagine waking up from surgery to hear these words from your doctor. It’s something many women who have experienced forced or coerced sterilisation face in our public hospitals. There are even reports of HIV positive women being denied medical treatment unless they sign forms for sterilisation.
Reports like this from our public hospitals show that women’s bodies and dignity are being violated against their will. One woman described being shouted at by a doctor publicly and told “all black people are careless”. The woman was so embarrassed she signed a sterilisation consent form before reading it. There are also reports of women being given forms while in labour and pressured to sign them without being told they would wake up sterilised.
This isn't just medical violence, it’s also discrimination that violates the agency and dignity of our sisters who are HIV positive. Health workers have no right to bully and misinform HIV positive women about sterilisation. The same women also suffer stigmatisation. A study done by Her Rights Initiative found that women reported that there was more stigma associated with being childless than there was for being HIV positive (Essack & Strode, 2012) . Women’s bodies remain subjects of public scrutiny and we must challenge this.
We must demand compensation for our sisters who were robbed of their right to control their own bodies and future. Tragically, for many women who were sterilised more than 3 years ago, there is no legal claim. Many did not even know that their rights were violated and only came forward when they heard that what happened to them was wrong. But, with pressure on the Department of Health building, we can demand compensation and action to stop this injustice from happening again.
 HIV positive women sterilised against their wishes Katharine Child for Times Live. 10 June 2015.
 Complaint to Commission of Gender Equality by Her Rights Initiative and Women’s Legal Centre. 20 March 2015.
 Z Essack & A Strode “I feel like half a woman all the time” The impact of forced sterilisation on HIV-positive women in South Africa (2012) Vol 92(2) Agenda 24, 24-25.
Dear Health Minister Motsoaledi,
We, the undersigned, ask that you respond today to the Commission of Gender Equality regarding the 48 cases of HIV positive women who were forced or coerced into sterilisation. We demand that you take decisive action to end this discriminatory and violent practice and commit to the following:
A thorough investigation of forced and coerced sterilisations in our health system.
Provide counselling for women regarding sterilisation and give them enough time to make a decision.
Ensure Information given to women is standardised, and sterilisation must be presented as one of many contraceptive options.
Ensure redress for women who have been forced or coerced into sterilisation by providing financial compensation, free psychological support and pain relief for the physical side effects of sterilisation.
Dear Mr Shozi (Chair of the Commission for Gender Equality),
We, the undersigned, call on you to continue to demand a response from the Department of Health on the issue of forced and coerced sterilisation and demand that the recommendations outlined in the complaint lodged by the Women’s Legal Centre and the Her Rights Initiative are adopted by the Department of Health. We also call on you to take this issue to Parliament.