Around The World,  Systemic Gendered Discrimination

Coercive Sterilization In Czech Republic: Roma Women Won Against Unlawful Governmental Practice

Among the contraceptive methods, sterilization constitutes a permanent solution to fertility control. Vasectomy for men, tubal ligation for women. It is a result of a mindful, informed, and medical-followed decision. Unfortunately, for some women living in marginalized settings or roughest realities, the situation has been different.

A Dive Into The Past

In the 20th century many researchers, as Paul R. Ehrlich, recalled the theory explained in “An Essay on the Principle of Population” (1798) by Thomas Malthus. The Malthusian catastrophe pointed out that population growth entails pressure on resources. It triggers a vicious circle of more people, additional requests, more exploitation of resources, pressure then reduction until this process causes a famine or war. These two effects work as a “natural” factor of balance against shortages and human life on the planet. The theory became common in the second half of ‘900 because of overpopulation theories and following studies.

It produced a consequence within States, worried to slow down the growth. Thus, as stated in “Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization”, Asia, Europe, and Latin America became a theatre of the awful practice of forced sterilization, justified by the need for population control. In exchange, women received promises such as “food, money, land, and housing, or threats, fines or punishments, together with misleading information”. 

Coerced Sterilization Is A Human Right Violation

Article 39 of the Istanbul Convention defines forced sterilization as “performing surgery which has the purpose or effect of terminating a woman’s capacity to naturally reproduce without her prior and informed consent or understanding of the procedure”. Women in challenging contexts or situations are the most likely to be affected.; especially women belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, living in poverty, suffering from HIV, or with disabilities. 

Sterilization with no medical reasons and without informed consent is a violation of human rights and discrimination. This violation still happens nowadays and the Czech Republic is an example. 

Coerced Sterilization Against Roma Women In Czech Republic 

The practice targeted Roma people during the ‘70s and beyond. In 1971 the Sterilization Directive was approved and it was effective until 2011. With the directive, medical institutions could perform the sterilization in two cases: under the person’s request; under consent. In the case of health issues related to the mother or the child, still, both conditions had to be satisfied; plus, it required approval from the Sterilization Commission. 

In 1988 and until 1991, the Sterilization Incentive Decree was approved and it granted material (household equipment coupons) or economic support for women undergoing sterilization. 

Finally, in 2011, with the Act on Specific Medical Services, the condition changed. First of all, it is divided between sterilization related to health issues and reasons not related to health. In the first case, there are three requirements: 1) being at least 18; 2) written consent; 3) the person needs to be eligible for legal acts. Of course, it was also required to give information under witnesses’ supervision. The second case requires to be at least 21, written requests and a period of 14 days between the information and the procedure. Even after the fall of communism and the ban of incentives for women who decided to undergo sterilization, social workers promoted it as a solution to control the “high” birth rate of Roma women. Often, the sterilization was performed during cesarean or in a moment of distress and pain, during labour or delivery. 

Recent Update: Czech Government Announces Compensation for Roma Women 

Thus, after a long campaign that started with Charter 77 in 1978, on 3rd August 2021, president Miloš Zeman signed the bill that will grant compensation for Roma women who were unlawfully sterilized from 1966 to 2012. The compensation will be 300,000 Czech crowns (almost 12,000€).

It represents a great day for women’s rights, after years of fights. But it doesn’t repair the emotional trauma and a possibility denied from the start. As stated in “against her will”, forced sterilization represents an infringement of: 

– the right to be free from torture, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; 

– the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; 

– the right to life, liberty, and security of person; the right to equality; 

– the right to non-discrimination; 

– the right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s privacy and family; 

– and the right to marry and to found a family. 

Francesca Mele


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