Women living with HIV in Namibia and South Africa have reported being forcibly sterilised after healthcare workers discovered that they were HIV positive. But how does forced sterilisation happen? One woman tells her story of narrowly escaping the procedure.
When doctors at Katatura State Hospital in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, booked Shantel Ferreira* for a follow-up operations after she gave birth to her first child, she thought nothing of it – until she started asking questions about the acronym “BTL” which appeared on her form. At the time, she had no idea the initials stood for a form of female sterilisation known as bitubal ligation.
According to the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, Namibian HIV-positive mothers like Ferreira have been reporting cases of coerced or forced sterilisations since at least January 2008. Ferreira spoke to Laura Lopez Gonzalez about how the birth of her second child almost did not happened.
“I gave birth early at seven months – the doctors said couldn’t give me an operation then [what she thought was a routine follow-up procedure] so they booked me for another month. When I arrived, a nurse asked me why I was there. I told her I was booked into theatre, that’s why I’m here.
“First thing, when I got there I asked the nurse about this paper they gave me to sign, I was like, ‘What’s this BTL?’ She was like, ‘Can’t you see I’m alone here and I’m busy? Just sign the paper and put it on the desk. I’ll come and tell you later.
“The next morning when I went to the theatre, the electricity went off so I went back to the wards to change and wait for the next day. So another [nurse] came in and this time she was friendly so I asked her what a ‘BTL’ was and she started explaining.
“I was like, ‘What? You’re trying to deny me giving birth to my child? Even it it’s born sick, let me take care of it.’ She said, fine then you should make a plan and leave this hospital.
“Me and my friend were both supposed to go in for an operation that day and we both just left ’cause when I found out what a BTL was, I told her. We were both scared so we just walked out.
“I’ve got two kids. Being a mom – there’s ups and downs but it’s good, and now people are being denied their right to have kids.”