Forced Sterilization Is Still Happening Throughout the World
Feminists need to talk about it
The Chinese government had made a good effort to disguise its genocidal programme of forced sterilization of Uighur women as feminism.
The Chinese embassy in the US recently tweeted a link to a report on declining birthrates in Xinjiang, a predominantly Uighur area, with the caption “[I]n the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”
In China: genocide rebranded as gender equality
It takes a worrying amount of gall to casually tweet about the declining demographics of a population your government is suspected of committing genocide towards and present the figures as being linked to improved gender equality. As though all those concentration camps for Uighurs were in reality summer camps for learning gender studies. Twitter apparently thought so too and removed the post for having “violated the Twitter rules” but only after it had been up for several hours.
The full extent of what China is doing to the Uighur minority remains unclear, and journalists are strictly prevented from travelling to the region. In fact, I myself once got deported from Beijing airport on arrival because they suspected I was intending to visit the region for a report. What is certain is that Beijing has amped up its repression of the minority in recent years.
There are a million Muslim Uighurs in detention camps and the West is doing very little about it. Disney filmed Mulan in Xinjiang, the very same region where these camps are located, and even thanked the regional authorities in the film credits. It may well turn out to be one of those crimes against humanity so immense that it will shock the world to its core, despite the fact that we had suspected it for years and done nothing, continuing trade with the perpetrators of genocide as though all was well, for the sake of cheap plastic consumer goods.
An investigation by AP last June found that the Chinese state “regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands, the interviews and data show.” In some Uighur regions, birthrates plummeted by 60% between 2015 and 2018. If members of the minority had too many children, they were threatened with internment, according to AP.
In the US: the “Uterus Collector”
While the situation in Xinjiang is atrocious, forced sterilization also happens much closer to home than we might think.
A nurse working at an ICE detention centre in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint against the agency, making startling allegations about detainees being subjected to unwanted hysterectomies. The main physician accused, Dr Mahenra Amin, performed so many of these surgeries that he became known as the “uterus collector.” More than 40 women went on to file a class action suit against ICE and Dr Amin, the consolidated lawsuit stating that they had been “ victims of non-consensual, medically unindicated and/or invasive gynaecological procedures, including unnecessary surgical procedures under general anaesthesia, performed by and/or at the direction of [gynaecologist Dr Mahendra Amin] … In many instances, the medically unindicated gynaecological procedures Respondent Amin performed on Petitioners amounted to sexual assault.” One of the women concerned, Jenel Haug, told Time magazine that she had received an internal examination by Dr Amin that was “the most medical way of being raped you could possibly experience.”
Meanwhile, Spain only just abolished a law allowing the forced sterilization of disabled people. “The end to this practice … brings an end to one of the most detrimental human rights violations allowed under Spanish law,” said the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Persons with Disabilities (CERMI) in a statement. Over the last decade, around 1000 people have been made infertile against their will based on the now-defunct measure in the penal code. Women living with HIV around the world are exposed to similar measures — in the name of preventing transmission, even though medicine is available that reduces the risk of mother-baby transmission of the virus to 0%.
Uighur women’s plight is the latest reminder that forced sterilization is an ongoing problem throughout the world, albeit one that feminists often fail to address. While abortion remains a major issue, being forcibly sterilized is just as much of a bodily intrusion if not more than being prevented from terminating a pregnancy. Historically in the US white feminists have been criticised for failing to address the issue of forced sterilizations because they affected mainly women of colour. We must not make the same mistake again.