AFRICA/NAMIBIA - Women present petition to Health Minister to end forced sterilization of HIV-positive women

Friday, 4 June 2010

Windhoek (Agenzia Fides) – Bus loads of women and men with their mouths gagged with packaging tape, marched from Katutura to the head office of the Ministry of Health and Social Services to hand over a petition to end forced sterilizations. This was one of many mass actions in solidarity with three plaintiffs that are suing the ministry for alleged violation of their right to dignity, non-discrimination, and the right to start a family. Similar solidarity events took place at the Namibian embassies in Pretoria, Lusaka, and Washington DC. Sit-ins were also planned at the Ondangwa and Windhoek State hospitals. "HIV-positive women are holding the healthcare system accountable for the wrongs done to them," said Veronica Kalambi of the Women's Health Network.
"People should have peace of mind that if they are HIV-positive, they can still go to the hospital and be treated with dignity and equality," said one woman, who claims that she was sterilized in 2001 and organized the Ondangwa sit-in. The petition handed to the ministry said forced sterilization of those with HIV is an emerging human rights issue. In 2007, reports surfaced that women seeking medical care were allegedly subjected to sterilization without their informed consent at two state hospitals. In 2008, 15 cases were documented. The petition said numerous human rights have been violated, including those guaranteed and protected by the Namibian Constitution and international treaties. These are the right to liberty and security, to health, to found a family, reproductive health, family planning, privacy, equality, and the right to a life, and freedom from discrimination. The petition also reads: “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 discrimination against people living with HIV.” The demonstrators called on the Government to issue a circular to both public and private health facilities to prohibit sterilization without consent and to clearly lay out procedures that lead to informed consent. The petition also said health workers should receive adequate training on the need for patients to receive quality and non-discriminatory medical care, regardless of their HIV status. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 06/04/2010)