More women than ever before are living with HIV around the world, and too many of them suffer cruel reproductive rights violations. The Center’s newest fact-finding report, Dignity Denied: Violations of the Rights of HIV-Positive Women in Chilean Health Facilities, reveals the extent of the problem through the stories of 27 HIV-positive women in Chile.
One of them is Julia*, a 36-year-old HIV-positive woman from Santiago, Chile. She and her partner decided to have a child after carefully considering all the facts: Julia’s viral load was undetectable, and the risk of mother-to-child transmission was low. But when she experienced an orange discharge and sought urgent care during her first trimester, she was at first turned away. Three days later, Julia was admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal pains and hemorrhaging, but was still made to wait while staff attended to HIV-negative patients, including those who arrived after her. She suffered a miscarriage soon after.
To this day, she wonders what would have happened if she had received prompt medical attention. The mistreatment she suffered has also kept her away from seeking healthcare services. “I tolerate as much pain as I can, until I cannot tolerate it anymore,” she told the Center.
HIV-Positive Women Denied Care and Sterilized without Their Consent
As our report makes clear, Chilean women living with HIV are routinely denied care, verbally abused, given misleading or inaccurate health information, and pressured to agree to sterilization—or sterilized without their consent. Of the sixteen women we interviewed who were sterilized, only four said that they made a fully informed and voluntary choice to have the procedure.
Their testimonies echo that of our client Francisca*, an HIV-positive Chilean woman who was sterilized without her consent during a Cesarean section. The Center and our Chilean partner Vivo Positivo filed a case on behalf of Francisca, F.S. v. Chile, at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in February 2009.
Report Challenges Impunity around Forced Sterilization of HIV-Positive Women
Dignity Denied demonstrates that the abuse and mistreatment suffered by HIV-positive women such as Julia and Francisca are a violation of their human rights. Moreover, by establishing forced sterilization as a form of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, the report will help us challenge the culture of impunity that perpetuates this intolerable practice.
“A woman who has tested positive for HIV has just as much of a right as any other woman to decide what’s best for her health and her life, and to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Lilian Sepúlveda, international deputy director and regional manager for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center. “Chile may be making great strides forward in the economic sphere, but this report shows that economic development and respect for women’s rights do not necessarily go hand in hand.”
To bring further attention to the issue, the Center will hold a hearing on the rights of HIV-positive women in the Americas before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 26.
*The names of the women have been changed to protect their confidentiality.