In China –
A teacher coerced into giving classes in Xinjiang internment camps has described her forced sterilization at the age of 50, under a government campaign to suppress birth rates of women from Muslim minorities. Qelbinur Sidik said the crackdown swept up not just women likely to fall pregnant, but those well beyond normal childbearing ages. Messages she got from local authorities said women aged 19 to 59 were expected to have intrauterine devices (IUDs) fitted or undergo sterilization.
In 2017, Sidik was 47 and her only daughter was at university when local officials insisted she must have an IUD inserted to prevent the unlikely prospect of another pregnancy. Just over two years later, at 50, she was forced to undergo sterilization. When the first order came, the Chinese language teacher was already giving classes at one of the now notorious internment camps appearing across China’s western Xinjiang region.
She knew what happened to people from Muslim minorities who resisted the government. In a Uighur-language text message that she shared, local authorities made the threat explicit. “If anything happens, who will take responsibility for you? Do not gamble with your life, don’t even try. These things are not just about you. You have to think about your family members and your relatives around you,” the message said. “If you fight with us at your door and refuse to collaborate with us, you will go to the police station and sit on the metal chair!”
In the US –
Dawn Wooten, a nurse working at an ICE detention center in Georgia, made startling allegations about the treatment of the women detained there. Wooten filed a whistleblower complaint against the agency last Monday.
Natalia Molina has written about the history of forced sterilization. There’s a shameful legacy of US officials ordering operations on people without their consent — often disproportionately targeting people of color — with laws driven by racism and cloaked in terms about mental health and fitness. There’s a long history affecting many different racial and ethnic groups, across many institutions — mental health hospitals, public hospitals and prisons.
The ICE allegations can be seen as a recent episode in a much longer trajectory of sterilization abuse and reproductive injustice.
Back in 1907, Indiana passed the world’s first eugenics sterilization law. 31 other US states followed suit. Women and people of color increasingly became the target, as eugenics amplified sexism and racism. The laws, which led to officials ordering sterilizations of people they deemed “feeble-minded” or “mentally defective,” later became models for Nazi Germany.
Under those laws, about 60,000 people were sterilized in procedures that we would qualify today as being compulsory, forced, involuntary, and under the justifications that the people who were being sterilized were unfit to reproduce. In California, people of Mexican descent were disproportionately sterilized. And in North Carolina, Black women were disproportionately targeted. Most of the state laws were repealed by the 1970s. But their history is something states are still reckoning with.
Could progressives become the next target upheld by a very conservative Supreme Court ? One hopes not but with the craziness that is overtaking the US, one can no longer predict how outrageous an unethical policy might be and still be upheld in the coming future. What has been done, cannot be undone, but we should never be silent about injustice and abuse. We can stop turning our heads away because it is someone else’s problem.
Never forget, social ideas can be twisted in order to promote dehumanization. Like the Muslim ban Trump ordered shortly after his inauguration.