As the alleged forced sterilisation cases begin this morning, people across the world have taken to the streets in solidarity with three HIV positive women who are claiming compensation in a case that will set international precedent. The case, currently underway at the High Court of Namibia, is alleging the women were sterilised without their informed consent while trying to access medical services at state hospitals in Namibia. They are each suing the Ministry of Health and Social Services for the alleged violation of their right to dignity, to non-discrimination and to found a family.

“The three women are alleging that they were sterilised without their informed consent. They are further alleging that they were discriminated because they are women living with HIV. The government is denying that the women were sterilised without their informed consent and is alleging that women requested for and gave written consent for the sterilisations. The women are claiming damages for alleged sterilisation and discrimination,” explains Linda Dumba-Chicalu, a member of the legal team at the Legal Assistance Centre.

Demonstrations of support for the women have been launched at Namibian Embassies in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.; Pretoria, South Africa and Lusaka, Zambia.

“OSISA and ICWGlobal are organizing a rally at the Namibian Embassy in Washington in solidarity with HIV positive women in Namibia and around the world who have had their reproductive rights violently violated by healthcare providers,” says Beri Hull, of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. In Namibia, planned events of support for the three women included a mass march in Windhoek and hospital sit-ins in Ondangwa and Windhoek.

“HIV positive women are holding the health care system accountable for the wrongs done to them,” says Veronica Kalambi of the Women’s Health Network. “These violations of women’s rights are in the context of a broader set of violations occurring against women at hospitals and clinics.”

“People should have peace of mind that if you have HIV, you can still go to the hospital and be treated with dignity and equality,” says Vicky Noa, who alleges she was sterilised in 2001 and organized a sit-in at an Ondangwa hospital in solidarity with the three women.

“If we are scared we might be sterilised we will not use the hospital services as much. We do not want to be denied the right to motherhood,” Noa said. Additionally, a petition signed by more than 1,000 people – both from Namibia and around the world – was handed over to the Ministry of Health and Social Services this morning. The petition demands that, amongst other things, the Ministry of Health and Social Services issue a circular to both the public and private health facilities explicitly prohibiting the practice of sterilisation without informed consent. 

Further events are planned throughout the rest of the court case, which is scheduled to be heard in court until 4 June 2010. A hospital sit-in at the Katutura State Hospital is planned to kick off in the maternity ward tomorrow morning, June 2 until June 4. Hospital sit-ins will continue at Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital until 4 June.

Links to media:

Namibia HIV women sue over forced sterilisation 

Namibia: Are Women Being Forcibly Sterilised?

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