Did you know that 13 EU countries still authorise forced sterilisation?
And this might only be the tip of the iceberg.
MEP and co-chair of The European Parliament’s Disability Intergroup Katrin Langensiepen explains why this human rights violation is still happening, and what you can do to put an end to it.
As shocking as it may sound, today in Europe, people with disabilities can still have their capacity to have children forcibly removed.
Women and girls with disabilities, and all those that can carry pregnancies, are overwhelmingly targeted by this torturous practice. People with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities are among the most at risk of being sterilised without their consent. This is especially true for those under guardianship measures.
Sterilisation is the process resulting in a permanent incapacity of natural reproduction. It is forced sterilisation when a person undergoes sterilisation without their knowledge or consent, after expressly refusing it or if the sterilisation takes place in the absence of a serious and immediate threat or risk to health and life.
Multiple EU Member States still willingly engage in the practice. The facts are staggering.
According to a recent study by the European Disability Forum:
• Only 9 EU Member States explicitly criminalise forced sterilisation
• At least 14 EU Member States still allow some forms of forced sterilisation in their legislation. They authorise either a guardian, a legal representative, an administrator or a doctor to consent to the sterilisation of a person with disabilities on their behalf.
• 3 Member States authorise the forced sterilisation of minors.
What is Ableism?
Forced sterilisation is often linked to ableism in our societies. Ableism is the discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.
Ableism amplifies discrimination against women with disabilities, through the wrong assumption that they are somehow different than women without disabilities that they do not have sexual preferences, family plans and are not able to decide for themselves.
Particularly women with intellectual disabilities are often written off from having the capacity to consent to sex. Ironically, women with disabilities are also the ones most affected by sexual violence and harassment. Forced sterilisation can actually make someone more vulnerable to sexual abuse. In this way, forced sterilisation is a direct consequence of a patriarchal system. The history of forced sterilisation is rooted in the racist, ableist and discriminatory eugenics movement of the 1900s which aimed to rid society of “undesirable traits”.
Forced sterilisation is done behind closed doors, often with the consent of the State.
There is a lack of research, funding and data on how many countries still put into practice this human rights violation. We don’t know how many women, girls and gender-diverse persons are affected.
As with many other disability-related fields, data on the topic is dramatically lacking. In order to bring the facts to light, we should start a European investigation to know where and how much forced sterilisation happens in the EU.
In March 2022, the European Commission published their proposal for the long-awaited Gender Based Violence Directive.
The European Parliament is now drafting its position on the proposal.
The Directive must introduce a criminalisation of forced sterilisation in the European Union. The European Disability Foundation proposes the inclusion of a specific article prohibiting forced sterilisation.
Forced sterilisation is prohibited under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the EU and all its Member States. It is also forbidden under the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (‘Istanbul Convention’). The Istanbul Convention has not been ratified by the EU yet. We need to put pressure on all Member States to finally complete the process and ratify the agreement.
Accessibility, adequate support and training of professionals are key to ensure access to justice and to support services for women and girls victims of violence against women and domestic violence.
The Directive must strengthen the existing framework established by the Victims’ Rights Directive. It must ensure accessibility of shelters and other interim accommodations. It also has to require States to provide training to relevant authorities on disability related rights and needs and.
INDEPENDENT LIVING – RIGHTS FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
A key factor to break with this circle of violence is for Member States to strengthen independent living of persons with disabilities. Living in an institution often creates power imbalances and it is often in this context that forced sterilisation happens.
As mentioned in the EU Disability Strategy 21-30, we need to strengthen free assistance, community-based services and accessible housing. We need to create an environment where people with disabilities are informed and are empowered to make decisions for themselves.
For that, Member States need to provide targeted help and information in an accessible way. These types of services are drastically lacking in the Member States. The EU needs to provide funds to help establish these services in a sustainable way.
In addition, data and research are urgently needed to identify the root causes of violence and monitor progress in preventing and combating gender-based violence. There is a structural lack of comparable data on gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities in the EU.
In this regard, the Directive should require Member States to collect disaggregated equality data to inform on the specific situation of marginalised groups. This should include women and girls with disabilities, in various settings such as in institutions, schools and workplace.
As green feminists, our work for a feminist, free and equal Europe is intersectional.
The European Parliament will soon be voting on its position on the new Gender-based Violence Directive. This is our opportunity to make sure that we ban forced sterilisation in the EU once and for all.
The directive needs to tackle the widespread discrimination against women, girls and gender-expansive persons by protecting all of our sexual and reproductive rights.
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