The Republic of Uzbekistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is described by the U.S. Department of State as “an authoritarian state with a population of approximately 27.6 million”. According to the United Nations, prior to Uzbek independence in 1991, abortion was the only way of ending a pregnancy as there was no contraception available. Now, contraceptive methods are available, but the most effective way to reduce pregnancy – hysterectomy – is reportedly being forced upon the nation’s women.
The Uzbek government’s official policy calls for doctors to encourage all forms of family planning, including sterilization, which may not be done without the informed consent of the patient. But, a human rights report released by the State Department in 2011 listed “problems” in Uzbekistan such as “violence against women”, including “several reports of involuntary sterilizations of women and allegations that the government pressured doctors to sterilize women to control the birth rate.”
Uzbekistan’s governmental response called such allegations “slanderous”, saying they have “nothing to do with reality”. Sadly, comments by Uzbek gynecologists and women made as recently as 2012 depict a reality that is very, very different.
In 2012, the United Kingdom’s BBC World Service reported that Uzbekistan has directed a secret program since (at least) 2010 to sterilize women without their knowledge or consent. One gynecologist said, “I believe 80% of women give birth through C-sections. This makes it very easy to tie the fallopian tubes.”
Women anonymously shared horror stories with BBC World Service reporter Natalia Antelava, including a 32-year-old woman who saved for months for an ultrasound to explain unbearable pain and bleeding that continued long after the Caesarean delivery of her child. She said, through tears, her doctor told her, “You don’t have a uterus any more'”.
The BBC’s 2-month investigation revealed that cases of forced sterilization were first reported in 2005 by a pathologist who noticed the uteruses of young, healthy women showing up at a mortuary where she worked. After going public with her findings, she was fired, and subsequently jailed.
The Expert Working Group, one of only a few non-governmental organizations operating in Uzbekistan, charges that the practice of forced sterilization actually dates back to 1999 and became a state policy in 2009. The Group believes that Uzbek President Islam Karimov, dissatisfied with a birth rate of 4 to 5 children per woman, ordered measures guaranteed to lower it. The Group’s leader says, “We are talking about tens of thousands of women being sterilized throughout the country.”
A gynecologist from Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, told the BBC, “Every year we are presented with a plan. Every doctor is told how many women we are expected to give contraception to; how many women are to be sterilized. My quota is four women a month. We are under a lot of pressure.””
The government’s written statement on the issue said “surgical contraception is carried out only on a voluntary basis after consultation with a specialist and with the written consent of both spouses. Uzbekistan’s record in protecting mothers and babies is excellent and could be considered a model for countries around the world.”
Perhaps you’re wondering, is this story appropriate for a website for women without children? It’s unfortunate, but aren’t these women being sterilized after delivering a healthy child?
The BBC reporter also shared this:
“Among many recordings we smuggled out of the country by a courier, there is a testimony of a [24-year-old] woman who describes how in 2011 she gave birth to a baby girl through an emergency caesarean. The following day, she was told she had been sterilised. There is a long pause and then the woman’s voice breaks into tears. ‘My baby’, she says, ‘my only child, died later that day.'”
I don’t think she’s the only Uzbek woman living that terrible reality. Do you?
(Image Credit: AP Photo/Sergei Grits)