Coercive sterilization is a process in which doctors render women unable to have children with written consent given by the patient while in labor or during moments of physical or psychological disorientation.
In post-communist, Central and Eastern European countries this abominable act has been disturbingly wide spread, aimed at the Roma population most notably in the early 1990’s.
Gwendolyn Albert, of the European Roma Rights Center, unfolds the personal nightmare of Elena Gorolova, a Roma woman who was coercivly sterilized during the Caesarian section delivery of her second child in 1990. In an open letter, Alber details the trying account of Elena:
While Elena was in the throes of labor in the birthing room, in enormous pain and under the influence of sedatives, doctors gave her a piece of paper and told her, “Sign this or you will die.” Trusting them, she signed without even reading the document — as she later said, “At that moment, I would have
signed my own death warrant.” Read the full letter on the Dzeno Website
This was not an isolated occurence in the Czech Republic and to this day the Czech Government refuses to acknowledge any incidents of coercive sterilization against Roma women.
Unfortunately, the trama of such an event did not stop in the hospital. As Elena’s case was brought before the Czech courts she was forced to answer an array of absurd and disparaging questions, bringing to the fore the blatant stereotypes that still exist about Roma.
The questioners seemed to have a hard time grasping that the throes of labor are not the right time to ask a woman whether she wants to be sterilized. They tried to explain to Elena that the “real problem” was her husband’s desire to have more children, not the doctor’s sterilizing her without her informed consent. They implied that having children was just a ploy for receiving social support. They asked whether she smokes, what grades she got in grammar school and why she doesn’t just adopt. They asked her why the Roma abuse welfare, why they throw it away on gambling, drugs and alcohol.
As Albert points out, “She [Elena] answered the ones she thought worthwhile, repeating her intensely personal story for what must be the 1,000th time in an effort to make people realize what not only she, but many others, have been through.”
This show of fortitude by Elena has inspired many other Roma women to come forward with their own accounts of sterilization. A movement is slowly building to empower not only these women, but all Roma people. However, as always, change will not come quickly and in the Czech Republic, stubborn government judicial procedures and entrenched bureaucracy threaten to stifle minority voices.
Posted By Colby Pacheco
Posted Aug 5th, 2008