In many parts of the world, women rely on access to a range of methods to control their fertility, including voluntary sterilisation. However, too often, sterilisation is not a choice. Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to forced sterilisations performed under the auspices of legitimate medical care. The practice of forced sterilisation is part of a broader pattern of denial of the human rights of women and girls with disabilities. This denial also includes systematic exclusion from comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care, limited voluntary contraceptive choices, a focus on menstrual suppression, poorly managed pregnancy and birth, involuntary abortion, and the denial of rights to parenting. These practices are framed within traditional social attitudes that characterize disability as a personal tragedy or a matter for medical management and rehabilitation. The difficulty some women with disabilities may have in understanding or communicating what was done to them increases their vulnerability to forced sterilisation. A further aggravating factor is the widespread practice of legal guardians or others making life-altering decisions for persons with disabilities, including consenting to sterilisation on their behalf.
This briefing paper has been jointly prepared by Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Open Society Foundations, and the International Disability Alliance (IDA) as part of the Global Campaign to Stop Torture in Health Care. The paper gives a background to the issue of forced sterilisation, outlines various international human rights standards that prohibit forced sterilisation, and offers several recommendations for improving laws, policies, and professional guidelines governing sterilisation practices.