Namibia Women’s Health Network, Namibia
The Namibia Women’s Health Network, founded in 2008, is formed and led by women living with HIV. Approximately 17 percent of the adult population in Namibia is HIV positive. Until recently, doctors would routinely sterilise HIV-positive women in hospitals after childbirth without their consent, to stop them from having more babies with the virus. The women, during or immediately after giving birth, would be asked to sign a paper without understanding its content.
‘Why have I been sterilised without my knowledge?’ an HIV-positive woman asked at a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Health in 2008. ‘After giving birth to my first child, a doctor told me I couldn’t have any more children because he’d sterilised me. I didn’t even know what that word meant’.
Jennifer Gatsi of Namibia Women’s Health Network described some of the work of the group: ‘We organise local awareness-raising meetings where people can openly discuss issues related to being HIV-positive. We also use these moments to develop a shared understanding of the ways in which gender, sexuality, power, poverty and social exclusion interlink with HIV infection and the rights of those affected by HIV. Building our advocacy on this understanding will ensure that the measures and programmes adopted by the state and civil society will be reflective of the lived reality of HIV-positive women.’
The Namibia Women’s Health Network has documented many cases of sterilised women. With the support of the Legal Assistence Centre, fifteen women, who alleged a violation of their constitutional right to be free of discrimination, were assisted in taking the state to court in 2010. In July 2012, the Network and its partners won a landmark case when the country’s high court ruled in favour of three women who had been sterilised without their informed consent in state hospitals. The ruling recognised, and condemned, the violent practice of sterilising HIV positive women without their consent. The courageous and determined struggle of feminists living with HIV and their allies led to the legal rejection of a practice that had been accepted for many years as normal.
The Namibia Women’s Health Network received grants from Mama Cash in 2010 and 2012.