Japan joins the list of nation-States `apologizing’ for forced sterilization

When she was 16 years old, Junko Iizuka was forcibly sterilized.

On Thursday, March 14, all major parties in Japan agreed to pass a measure, probably in April, that would “deeply apologize” and offer compensation to victim-survivors of forced sterilization. The compensation would be a one-off payment of around $28,700. Now we know the value of life in Japan … and elsewhere. Survivors and their supporters and advocates argue that the compensation is way too little and way too late. Japan suspended its 48-year program of sterilizing those who might produce children described as “inferior”, under a law called the Eugenics Protection Law. The youngest known victim was 9 or 10 years old; 70% of those sterilized were women and girls. Since 1996, women and supporters have organized and demanded recognition, compensation, apology, dignity and justice. It only took 23 years to arrive at something approximating any of their demands, and that was largely due to a barrage of civil suits initiated last year. Forced sterilization is a formative element in contemporary nation-building, and Japan is not an outlier in this matter.

From 1935 to 1976, Sweden sterilized womenit deemed socially or racially inferior. `No one’ know about this program until it was revealed in 1997. In 1999, Sweden agreed to pay victim-survivors a one-off payment of $22,6000. Then, in 2012, it was `revealed’ that Sweden required transgender people to undergo sterilization. The law requiring sterilization was passed in 1972, but “no one” knew. In February 2012, thirty years after its passage, the law was repealed

Japan now joins the list of nation-States dealing, and not dealing, with their histories of forced sterilization: PeruSouth AfricaNamibiaIndia, to name a few that have addressed the issue in the last few years. Sometimes the ostensible reason is health care, particularly HIV; or population control; and the list goes on. No matter the immediate explanation, the reason is always “protection.” In the past few years, in the United States, CaliforniaVirginiaNorth Carolinahave addressed their histories of forced sterilization. The United States has not addressed its history of forced sterilization of Native women. Nor has Canada.

The Japanese government will not say if forced sterilization operations under the now-defunct eugenic protection law were unconstitutional”. 

Every program of forced sterilization had a justification. Every later discovery offered an alibi, most of which argued `the times were different’. That was then. The problem is that now is then, as then was now. Forced sterilization of women and girls is baked into the formation of citizenship in the modern nation-State, every single one without exception. It is the signature of nation-State modernity. As long as the State produces and reproduces hierarchies of citizenship, that’s how long the nation-State will find ways to accommodate forced sterilization of women and girls. For `our’ protection and security. There is no apology deep enough to address that constitutive and absolutely ordinary atrocity.

(Photo Credit: Daniel Hurst /The Guardian) (Image Credit: PBS / Truman State University)

The specter of forced sterilization haunts California, Peru and beyond

This week, two events returned to center stage the forced sterilization of largely poor women of disenfranchised ethnic minorities. In Peru, former President Alberto Fujimori and three of his Ministers of Health – Marino Costa Bauer, Eduardo Yong, and Alejandro Aguinaga – were told they are being investigated and will face charges for the forced sterilization of five women during his time in office. Also this week, in California, state legislators are debating a bill that would establish a “eugenics sterilization compensation program.” From Lima to Sacramento and beyond, once more, the monster women refuse to stay silently buried underground.

Alberto Fujimori was President of Peru from 1990 to 2000. In 1996 Fujimori modified the so-called General Population Law, incorporating “voluntary” sterilization an acceptable contraceptive method. In 1996, the Reproductive Health and Family Planning Programme was launched. From 1996 to 2000, over 300,000 women were sterilized. The overwhelming majority were poor and indigenous. The overwhelming majority never consented to the procedure. Many didn’t even know it was occurring. Over 2000 cases have been lodged against the sterilizations. As many as 18 women died because of the sterilization procedures. In 2014, Fujimori was cleared of any wrongdoing concerning forced sterilizations. In 2009, Fujimori was convicted to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses. Late last year, at the age of 79, Fujimori was released from prison, because of ill health. This week, he was informed that he would be facing charges concerning forced sterilization.

For fifteen years, Peruvian women have struggled and pushed for this moment. For example, year in and year out, the women’s rights organization DEMUS, Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, has documented cases of forced sterilization and called on the government to act. In response to the announcement of forthcoming charges, DEMUS issued a statement, calling the decision “a milestone in the struggle against impunity, one that highlights the national policy of forced sterilization against thousands of Quechua-speaking, peasant, indigenous and native women living in extreme poverty, which perpetrated grave violations of human rights. With their courage and persistence, the 2166 women who, 15 years ago, filed a complaint, today, with this case going into judicial investigation, finally take a step forward towards their right to justice.”

In California, the state legislature is considering a step forward as well. In 1909 California passed laws allowing for forced sterilization. California was one of 32 states that gave allowed for coerced sterilization of those `unfit’ to reproduce. In 1979, California officially banned forced sterilization, but in its prisons, forced sterilization, especially of women, continued until 2010. From 2006 to 2010, 144 women prisoners were sterilized “without proper authorization”. In 2014, California formally banned forced and coerced sterilization of women prisoners … again. By 1979, California forcibly sterilized over 20,000 people.  The Latinx population was targeted. Prior to 1926, Latinos were targeted. From 1926 to 1979, Latinas bore the brunt of the eugenics sterilization program. Latina women and girls were at a 59% greater risk of sterilization than non-Latina women and girls. Needless and necessary to say, the Latina woman and girls were also overwhelmingly poor.

In early April, California State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced SB-1190 Eugenics Sterilization Compensation Program, which would offer compensation to living survivors of California’s sterilization decades. It is estimated that the Compensation Program would involve around 800 survivors, many of whom to this day do not know that they were sterilized. In establishing a compensation program, California would join Virginia and North Carolina.

Finally, “the bill would require the State Department of State Hospitals and the State Department of Developmental Services, in consultation with stakeholders, to establish markers or plaques at designated sites that acknowledge the compulsory sterilization of thousands of people. The bill would also require the board, in consultation with stakeholders, to develop a traveling historical exhibit and other educational opportunities about eugenics laws that existed in the State of California between 1909 and 1979 and the far-reaching impact they had on California residents.”

In both Peru and California, reports of judicial investigation in one and legislative action in the other are woven through mountains of haunting, heartrending accounts of survivors, family members, friends. For decades, these stories have been shrouded and buried in layers of State and public silence. Thanks to women who refused to be stopped, who struggled with courage and persistence, the days of enforced silence about forced sterilization are nearing an end. The time for acknowledgement, reparations, and education is now.

 

(Photo Credit: El Pais / Reuters) (Image Credit: Journalists Resource / Rachael Romero)

In South Africa, the forced sterilization of HIV positive women is part of the plan

In March of this year, we wrote: “In South Africa this week, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS responded to the indignity and abuse of forced sterilization. Represented by Her Rights Initiative, Oxfam, and the Women’s Legal Centre, 48 women who had suffered forced sterilization in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal came forward and lodged a formal complaint. These 48 `cases’ were from 1986 to 2014. These 48 women are the tip of a rumbling volcano.” Yesterday, the volcano rumbled, as a report indicated that, of 6719 HIV positive women interviewed, 498 said they had been forcibly sterilized. “It is the largest number of reported forced sterilisation cases ever uncovered in the country.”

The report, The People Living With HIV Stigma Index: South Africa 2014, noted, under Sexual Reproductive Health: “Of concern is that 7% of respondents reported that they were forced to be sterilized. In addition, 37% of the respondents said that access to ARV treatment was conditional on use of contraceptives.” Sindisiwe Blose, a research project manager and a member of the Treatment Action Campaign, elaborated, “We heard from people living with HIV who had refused marriage due to stigma, had avoided work promotion, or had been coerced into undergoing sterilization. Behind the figures lies a depth of suffering that struggles to be addressed.”

Close to 500 women forcibly sterilized doesn’t just happen. In this instance, the incidents were distributed all over, with the hotspots in three provinces: Eden, in the Western Cape, accounted for 22%; Buffalo City, in the Eastern Cape, 20%; and Sedibeng, in Gauteng, 19%.

Sethembiso Mthembu, of Her Rights Initiative, responded to the numbers: “The data of 498 cases basically confirms the practice is widespread. It is systematic. It is not a few rotten apples.” The Women’s Legal Centre also described the sterilization as systemic, with Jody-Lee Fredericks, of the Centre, adding, “This is horrific.”

The horrific this is the banality of the policy. As Helen Rees of the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute recently explained, the biggest concern right now is young women, ages 15 to 24, and women sex workers. Many of the young women who are “placed in this situation” are poor, vulnerable and “prey to sexual exploitation.” In other words, none of this is surprising.

Yesterday, Nkhensani Mavasa, the Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, addressed the opening session of the South Africa Aids Conference 2015. She spoke of a new denialism among the leadership of the nation, and she warned, “If you choose to ignore the crisis in the healthcare system, this crisis that is a fact of our daily lives, you may, like those other denialists in the past, end up on the wrong side of history.”

The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of that new denialism. In the complaint filed in March, 48 women and their supporters rejected the double stigma of being HIV positive and being unable to have children. They also rejected the third stigma of having failed the nation-State. Women who are HIV positive are viewed as failed citizens. That’s why they can be treated this way, despite Constitutional and legal protections to the contrary. The Department of Health says forced sterilization is not department policy, but it is practiced, in the open, regularly. The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of State violence against women, and it is never accidental or incidental. It is part of the plan.

 

(Photo Credit: The Star / Chris Collingridge)

In South Africa, women say “My body, my rights, my womb, my choices!”

 

In South Africa this week, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS responded to the indignity and abuse of forced sterilization. Represented by Her Rights Initiative, Oxfam, and the Women’s Legal Centre, 48 women who had suffered forced sterilization in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal came forward and lodged a formal complaint. These 48 `cases’ were from 1986 to 2014. These 48 women are the tip of a rumbling volcano. They are the faces and bodies of gendered inequality in South Africa and beyond. They represent the untold numbers of women living with HIV and AIDS who have been forced to suffer one indignity after another. They represent all women in national and regional economies where women’s bodies are viewed as consumables with ever declining values.

The women tell their own stories, for example, Zanele, who was 19 years old and 38 weeks pregnant: “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.”

There is another, connected story, as told by Dr Ann Strode from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In 2012, Dr. Strode published a study published that examined the situation of forced sterilization of women living with HIV and AIDS. At the time, the research team believed that the practice had more or less ended by 2006, with the national rollout of antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs. In the present group of 48, more than half of the violations took place after 2006. Dr. Strode and her colleagues were surprised by the findings.

Consider the story of surprise. When those who are the most informed and the most engaged, when the advocates and the organizers, think the story is over, it takes the subjects, the women themselves, to step forward and `surprise’ the public consciousness out of its slumber. Two of the cases were from last year, and one has already resulted in a civil suit in Gauteng.

Some talk about the double stigma women living with HIV and AIDS suffer: being HIV positive, being unable to have children. But there’s a third stigma: having failed the nation-State. Women who are HIV positive are viewed as failed citizens. That’s why they can be treated this way, despite Constitutional and legal protections to the contrary. The Department of Health says forced sterilization is not department policy, but it is practiced, in the open, regularly.

Each of those 48 women represents tens and hundreds of other women living with AIDS, and each of those 48 women represents thousands and tens of thousands of women who struggle and organize in the unequal and violent spaces between policy and practice.

End this violation on women’s bodies! My body, my rights, my womb, my choices.”

 

(Photo Credit: The Star / Chris Collingridge)

Virginia `pays’ for decades of forced sterilization of women

 

On Thursday, February 26, the Virginia legislature agreed to pay $25,000 in compensation to those who had suffered forced sterilization during the Commonwealth’s decades long adventure in eugenics. From 1924 to 1979, over 8000 people were involuntarily sterilized under the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act. It’s believed that 65,000 people nationwide were forcibly sterilized, and so, at over 12% of the total, Virginia holds pride of place. But there’s more. Virginia was the model for many states across the United States and for the German Nazi eugenics program. The line from Richmond to the Third Reich is direct.

More than a fifth of those sterilized in Virginia were African American, and more than two-thirds were women. Virginia’s longstanding war on Black women took many shapes, and the argument was always security and the well being of something called society. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s sterilization program. In the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” By enough, he meant too much.

Virginia’s sterilization program sat comfortably at the intersection of gender, race, class, disability, and confinement. The overwhelming majority of those sterilized were “patients” of state institutions. They weren’t patients; they were prisoners.

In 1985, Virginia finally agreed to inform survivors of their sterilization and to provide them with counseling services. In 2002, then Governor Mark Warner formally apologized for Virginia’s shameful part in eugenics. In 2014, Delegate Patrick Hope, from Arlington County, began pushing for compensation, and that’s what was established yesterday. Yesterday, Del. Hope explained, “I think it’s a recognition when we do something wrong we need to fix it as a government. Now we can close this final chapter and healing can begin.”

Does healing begin this way? The compensation is a step in the right direction. At the same time, the survivors number only eleven. More to the point, what of the system of law, medicine, education, and State that supported the forced sterilization of over 5000 women, all in the name of preserving the health and well being of something called society? That healing has not begun, not while so many of their sisters, nieces, grand nieces, and the list goes on, languish in prisons and jails across the Commonwealth, and across the nation, today. The kind of healing of which Delegate Hope speaks and for which he yearns cannot be purchased. It is not for sale. It must emerge from sustained recognition of responsibility combined with recognition of the subjects of this history. Women. Black women. Black women living with disabilities. Poor Black women living with disabilities. That healing has yet to begin.

 

(Photo Credit: The Institute for Southern Studies)

In Kenya, the women say, “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights”

In Nairobi this week, five women wearing t-shirts walked into court. On the back, the t-shirts read: “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights.” On the front, the t-shirts read, “END FORCED AND COERCED STERILIZATION OF WOMEN LIVING WITH HIV”

The five women, all HIV positive, are suing the Kenyan government, two maternity hospitals, and two international ngo’s for engaging in forced and coerced sterilization. They join women living with HIV in Namibia who recently won a similar case, and who had an identical rallying cry. They join the women of Chhattisgarh and across India who have survived the `sterilization camps.’ They refuse to join the women who died in those camps, though they honor them. They have joined the women prisoners across California who this year finally won the end to forced sterilization of women prisoners in that state. They join women, poor and minority, in North Carolina who finally are receiving some sort of compensation for their mistreatment, to put it gently, in forced sterilization campaigns. They join women living with disabilities in Belgium who resist coerced sterilization. They join women in Peru who eighteen years after the cessation of formal forced sterilization programs still struggle for justice. They join the Aboriginal and Indigenous women and girls across the Americas and Australia who still wait for an accounting of forced sterilization program. They join these women, all of them shouting, “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body, my women, my rights.”

One of the women, Teresia Otieno, explained, “I went in for an operation to give birth to my first child. By the time I was leaving the operation the doctor told me I had been sterilized.” According to Benta Agola, another one of the women, the medical staff misinformed her every step of the way, and then proceeded onto the sterilization: “I wasn’t involved in decisions.” One woman reports she was threatened with a cut off of baby formula milk if she didn’t go through with the tubal ligation: “The nurse said I could not continue giving birth in the future as giving birth would compromise my immunity and as a result I would die. I eventually gave in but after the procedure I have always had pain in my abdomen especially during the cold season and also cannot undertake heavy chores.” One of the women discovered she had undergone tubal ligation four years after the procedure.

The women are represented by lawyers from KELIN, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the rights of those living with HIV, and activists from the African Gender and Media Initiative, or GEM. Two years ago, GEM released a report, Robbed of Choice: Forced and Coerced Sterilization Experiences of Women Living with HIV in Kenya. The report documented the forced sterilization of 40 women living with HIV, or WLHIV: “In many cultures including the African, motherhood is at the core of femininity and status in society. The narratives documented here illustrate how WLHIV who have undergone nonconsensual sterilization are no longer considered, women, in their respective communities as these sterilizations are permanent and irreversible in most cases. We hope that this publication will commit the government of Kenya to act by putting in place appropriate measures to prevent and respond to forced and coerced sterilization and ultimately stop torture of WLHIV in healthcare facilities.”

These five women in Kenya are part of a global movement of women challenging the global program of forced sterilization of women. It’s past time to end it. Codify and pay just compensation to survivors of forced sterilization. Establish serious global structures to enforce informed consent. Listen to the women: NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights!

 

(Photo Credit: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk)