In celebration of World Aids Day on 1st December, we remember the voices of those forced into silence.
“The sterilization ruined my life”Selina, a victim.
Forced sterilization may be a foreign concept to some, but this is a practice that has been exercised since time immemorial.
In its early form, it strived to prevent the spread of ”toxic” genetic traits, such as mental illnesses, albinism and blindness.
Popular instances of this exercise are during the Rwandan genocide. During this period, Tutsi women were mutilated to prevent them from having children to end the future of the Tutsi population.
Recently, this atrocity has widened its reach to women living with HIV/AIDS in rural areas.
These stories seldom make headlines in mainstream media, making it all the more enthralling.
But, what is forced sterilization? The United Nations Human Rights Committee refers to it as the sterilization of women without their consent. This aims to prevent women from having future pregnancies, therefore stripping them of their natural right to be mothers.
As a matter of fact, this exercise is deemed as a violation of the internationally recognized right to be free from torture and degrading treatment.
Just as ordinary women do, women living with HIV/AIDS have the right to a family planning method of their choice and right to bear children.
So, we need to realize that these women are humans too, thus, are entitled to these intrinsic rights.
Coercion and Victimization
At face value, this practice is a violation of human dignity, above all.
Kenyan victim testimonies bear one common fact- coercion.
“While I was groaning in pain, the doctor looked at my file and said to me, ‘Woman you are still giving birth and you are HIV positive?”Alice, a victim.
In Kenya, it is illegal to test someone for HIV/AIDS without their free and informed consent. Victims of sterilization often visit the hospital to give birth or for check-ups, but end up on operation tables for their tubes to be cut without notice.
Into the bargain, these women are coerced into signing consent forms during childbirth. Oftentimes, this is done by shaming the woman for having HIV/AIDS or any other defect, such as blindness.
Consent given under such circumstances is invalid, as it is given in an unsound state of mind and obtained under duress.
HIV/AIDS is commonly referred to as an abomination. However, does this mean that people living with this virus no longer have human dignity?
When can we be stripped of our human dignity?
The answer is- never. Famous philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, affirms that dignity is inviolable and cannot be denied even a vicious man. Hence, as we are all born with human dignity, so do we die with this dignity.
Additionally, no human is born with more dignity compared to another.
“I cannot discipline my children, when I try to, he tells me I have a rotten stomach.”Purity, a victim.
As a result of this treatment, seclusion from ordinary life follows. Victims are robbed of ordinary life- their marriages fall apart, families disown them and, in severe cases, they are ostracized from their communities.
In 2012, the ”Robbed of Choice” report sparked outrage in the country, calling for reform of human rights laws that affect women.
“This is really painful because I have seen women who are HIV positive get healthy children while I am not able to.”Lucy, a victim.
The Constitution of Kenya (2010), assures Kenyans of human dignity, the right to health of the highest attainable standards and exemption from degrading treatment. Nevertheless, this appears to have no effect on the current sterilization practices in marginalized areas.
Then, why is forced sterilization still a matter of concern years after this famous report? As of 2018, 1.6 million Kenyans are living with HIV/AIDS, indicating that sterilization is far from the solution to this epidemic.
To protect further incidences of human rights violations against women in this country, restrictive laws on pregnancy need to be re-evaluated. This should be done to protect women’s dignity and reproductive rights, to strengthen the family as a unit, rather than tearing it apart.
What are your thoughts on forced sterilization in the Kenyan society?
-By Author and Owner of The Sapiosexual Roundtable Blog;