Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane notes CGE Report on forced and coerced sterilisation of HIV positive women

The Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane acknowledges the release of the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) Report on forced and coerced sterilisations of women living with HIV (WLHIV) in the country. Minister acknowledges the contents of the report and is deeply concerned by the human rights violations and reproductive injustices committed against women living with HIV.

Forced and coerced sterilisation is an internationally recognised human rights violation reported by women living with HIV around the globe. The experiences of these women demonstrate the gendered nature of HIV-related discrimination and prejudices by healthcare providers, yet South Africa has made tremendous progress on prevention of mother-to-child transmission and provision of HIV antiretroviral treatment. Thus, the attitudes of doctors and nurses committing these heinous acts leave much to be desired. It is clear that the country needs to do more to transform the health system so that it respects the dignity and sexual and reproductive and rights of women living with HIV.

All the women cited in the report bemoan how the discovery of sterilisation has had an impact on their physical, emotional, psychological, cultural, familial and financial lives. It is therefore important that these women are afforded the opportunity for redress. We also applaud the recommendations that the National Department of Health (NDOH), must facilitate dialogue between themselves and the complainants in order for them to find ways of providing redress to the Complainants.

We note the recommendations on law reform and policy reform in this regard. As the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, we will ensure that we work with Ministers of Health, Justice, the sterilised women, the CGE, the Health Professions Council, the South African Nursing Council and the Health Ombudsman, The Interim Steering Committee on GBVF and civil society at large to root out this barbaric practise.

The Department applauds the women who have spoken out and has joined many other voices that advocated for the reproductive rights of women, where choice matters and we want to ensure that justice prevails, said Minister Nkoana-Mashabane.

This report comes during a time when South Africa is grappling with the issue of gender-based violence in the country. Furthermore, the report is received against the backdrop of South Africa having completed the 25-Year Review on progress in the emancipation of women and gender equality. The department commits to working with the Department of Health to ensure that the National Health Insurance (NHI) is gender responsive and provides for advancements of women’s health and human rights, added Minister Nkoana-Mashabane.

The South African Constitution guarantees the rights of all women, the right to dignity, life and bodily integrity. The Sterilisation Act of 1998 provides for the protection of rights of women to make informed choices about sterilisation and the responsibility of health professionals in this regard.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action clearly states that involuntary sterilisation is a form of violence against women, whilst the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD POA) in 1994 committed to support the principle of voluntary choice in family planning, and to move away from targeted approaches to practices. In 2019, South Africa reported on progress made and challenges facing women and the ICPD commitments. We are therefore saddened to learn that the practice of forced/coerced sterilisation in the country still continues 25 years since Beijing and ICPD. The discrimination and victimisation of the 48 women is not only a fundamental violation of their human rights but also their sexual and reproductive health rights.

This report’s release is welcomed as it comes when the department is reflecting and preparing for the 64th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64) on measuring progress on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the lead up to the International Women’s Day on 8 March and on the heels of the ICPD+25 Nairobi Summit.

We call on the State to declare a moratorium on sterilisation of HIV-positive women whilst this matter is being resolved. A call to action must be made for the State to further investigate and sanction coercive and forced sterilisation. We also call upon medical professionals to work with the Department to protect and uphold the rights of all women including women living with HIV in South Africa.

Source: Government of South Africa