Upcoming Cases Drawing Media Attention

A series of articles have hit the Namibian papers regarding the alleged sterilisation of women living with HIV. Here are a select few:

World Attention Falls on Nam Sterilisation Case
28 May 2010 – The Namibian
All eyes will be on Namibia next week when the case of HIV-positive women, allegedly sterilised in State hospitals without their consent, goes to court.

Sterilised Woman Speaks Out
28  May 2010 – The Namibian
“I LOST the right of becoming a mother…”
So said Vicky Noa, a woman who was allegedly sterilised without her consent in a State hospital nine years ago, in an interview with The Namibian on Wednesday. According to the 30-year-old Noa, who hails from northern Namibia, she was based in Windhoek at the time of the alleged incident.

Women Want Forced Sterilisation Busted
21 May 2010 – New Era
Women’s and HIV/AIDS organisations in the southern African region plan solidarity marches and petitions in support of HIV-positive women, who were (allegedly) subjected to sterilisation without informed consent.

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Hundreds Planning Solidarity Action

Press Release
28 May 2010
For Immediate Release

Hundreds of men and women from across southern Africa are planning to take part in solidarity events as three women who were allegedly sterilised without their informed consent take their cases to the High Court of Namibia from 1 to 4 June 2010. The women, who are all living with HIV/AIDS, are each suing the Ministry of Health and Social Services for 1 million dollars as compensation for the damages they have suffered.

“Namibia has an extremely high HIV prevalence, fuelled by stigma against people living with HIV. These cases illustrate that women living with HIV are highly vulnerable to human rights violations,” said Rosa Namises, Director of Women’s Solidarity Namibia.

Hundreds of people who consider coerced and forced sterilisation a distinct violation of rights will participate in a series of solidarity events that will coincide with the court proceedings. Hospital sit-ins at Katutura State Hospital in Windhoek (where some of the alleged cases of sterilisation took place) and at the Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital in Ondangwa are planned throughout the court case. A mass march and petition hand-over to the Ministry of Health is planned on the first day of the case – 01 June 2010. Additional demonstrations of solidarity are expected to take place in Zambia, South Africa, the U.K and America.

“The law states that we should all be treated equally” says Veronica Kalambi of the Namibia Women’s Health Network. “That means that people living with HIV should have the same rights as everyone else – including the right to found a family.”

Reports of sterilisation of HIV positive women first emerged in 2007, claiming that women living with HIV seeking medical care in state hospitals were allegedly subjected to sterilisation without their knowledge or informed consent. The three cases are the first of 15 that will be heard on these merits, says Legal Assistance Centre lawyer Linda Dumba-Chicalu.

“Sterilisation of women living with HIV without their consent also has serious implications for the health care system as a whole,” explains Amon Ngavetene, coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre. “Fear of discrimination and mistreatment can discourage women from seeking health care services and can undermine the government’s gains in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and the HIV response as a whole.”

Partners working on the campaign to end forced sterilisation include: Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia Women’s Health Network, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, Women’s Solidarity Namibia, Women’s Leadership Centre, Sister Namibia, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

“VIVA FOR LIFE”

A lively debate nearly brought down the roof at University of Namibia gym hall on Monday.

More than 100 students attended the hour-long session as six of Namibia’s top debaters discussed the issue of reproductive health and the motion that “that individuals with a terminal disease, in particular HIV, should be denied the right to reproduce”.

The event was officially opened by the Deputy director of Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ms Hilma Awala who told the audience that “the health of our people is in good hands” because the issues of reproduction health is discussed by the youth. “All women and men have the right to decide how many children they want to have,” Awala said. Awala admitted the ministry is facing challenges in maternal and newborn health but they have set a vision for themselves that is reducing the levels of mortality by 75% by the year 2015.

Used as a test to gage public opinion surrounding the issues in the upcoming sterilisation cases, the University of Namibia’s debaters presented compelling arguments that drew dramatic audience response.

Arguing all human rights were for everyone, Magongo Iipinge said humans as having the right to liberty and life. “The fundamental human rights, that is what we are fighting for,” Iipinge said. Iipinge said telling women not to conceive is denying them the right to reproduction and, who knows, the babies could be the next great scientist or the next Obama. Iipinge said in life the greater good is advancement of human life and it is only through reproduction that we can advance human life. The ARV’s are there to prolong life. “Viva for life,” he said an applauding audience.

Yet, arguments from the pro-sterilisation side were strong. Claudia Boamah opened the debate by saying, that the government should come up with a policy to combat the situation as people are causing a problem to themselves. Boamah said the government have a responsibility to draw up a policy that enforces the compulsory testing for pregnant women. Boamah suggested if the women do not request, they will be forcefully tested and asked not to reproduce. Boamah said, “the rate of people getting HIV is becoming ridiculous, though the government is providing contraceptives freely.” Boamah argued that women who are infected should be fined if they have children.

Speaker Magdelina Wakolele said that sterilisation takes away the fundamental rights of individuals. Wakolele said HIV is combated by the use of ARV’s and the statistics show that it has decreased from 22% to 17.8% so there is no need for taking the drastic and inhumane major of denying women to conceive.

Arguing for sterilisation, John Haufiku said that a “little evil” is needed and also quoted Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “sometimes you will wish you had done a little evil.” Haufiku argued that sometimes the stigma and discrimination should be forfeited for the greater good. “Prolonging life of an infected baby with ARV’s does not make any good sense because at the end of the day they contribute zero to the country,” Haufiku said. Initiating the policy would be killing three birds with one stone that is reducing the orphans, reducing orphans with HIV/AIDS and investing and building a future of people who are free from HIV/AIDS.

Another speaker fighting against the idea of sterilisation, Wesele Chikwilila, reminded the people that ARV’s are providing a better chance in fighting the disease so the women should be allowed to conceive and their babies will have the opportunity to study and to contribute to the country’s economy.

Yet pro-sterilisation debater Albert Titus was convinced and concluded when he said, that those people who live recklessly shall bear the consequences of their lifestyle and that inequality a person will face will be limited to them jeopardising the right of another person.

In the end, the judges declared the pro-sterilisation side the winners of the debate as they had stronger points and presented more refined arguments.

First Cases Head to Court Soon

MEDIA ADVISORY
For Immediate Release
Windhoek, 20 May 2010

Three women living with HIV who are seeking compensation for the alleged sterilision without their informed consent are scheduled to have their cases heard in the High Court of Namibia on June 1 to 4.

In a show of solidarity with the women, a coalition of civil society organisations from across southern Africa are planning to lead several events to coincide with the dates of the court case. Hospital sit-ins, a mass march of support, a petition hand-over and demonstrations at Namibian embassies in Zambia and South Africa are intended.

The three cases are the first of 15 that will be heard on the merits. The women are asking for compensation for this alleged violation of their human rights.

In 2007, reports emerged that women living with HIV seeking medical care were allegedly subjected to sterilisation without their knowledge or informed consent in state hospitals.

The campaign partners call on all Namibians and civil society organisations to join the planned events to end the alleged involuntary sterilisation of women living with HIV in Namibia. More information about the various activities will be released as the court dates draw closer.

Campaign Partners:
Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia Women’s Health Network, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, Women’s Solidarity Namibia, Women’s Leadership Centre, Sister Namibia, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.