Sterilization of Women and Girls with Disabilities

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In many parts of the world, women rely on access to a range of methods to control their fertility, including voluntary sterilization. However, too often, sterilization is not a choice. Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to forced sterilizations performed under the auspices of legitimate medical care.

The practice of forced sterilization 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 sterilization. A further aggravating factor is the widespread practice of legal guardians or others making life-altering decisions for persons with disabilities, including consenting to sterilization on their behalf.

This briefing paper, produced as part of the Campaign to Stop Torture in Health Care, outlines various international human rights standards that prohibit forced sterilization. It also offers several recommendations for improving laws, policies, and professional guidelines governing sterilization practices.