Social Issues

The perpetual wound

Marta Rullán

Lima, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- Maria Elena Carbajal was sterilized on 18 September 1996, after giving birth to her fourth child, amid pain and lies and under pressure from doctors who told that she might lose her newborn.

“The doctors and nurses came to ask me to have a ligation,” she says, barely able to hold back her tears. “I told them ‘no, my husband wouldn’t like it’, but they kept on repeating that I didn’t have to sign any papers, that I would be able to have more children.

“Because they kept insisting and to be able to see my son, I was forced to accept.”

Maria’s heart-rending story is just one out of the 300,000 Peruvian women — the vast majority coming from poor, marginalized and indigenous communities — who were subjected to forced sterilization in Peru between 1996 and 2001 under president Alberto Fujimori and his government’s eugenics campaign that would have made the Nazis proud.

Government agents would travel to the Andean country’s most remote areas, where they would go door to door to blackmail the local women. “Under the pretext of reducing poverty, they applied racist and patriarchal policies designed to eradicate Quechua-speaking indigenous populations,” says Esther Mogollón, coordinator for the Group for Reparations of Forced Sterilizations (GREF).

She has heard thousands of stories from women who were tied up, beaten and operated on without being sedated or with animal anaesthetic purchased in the US, like the one Maria Elena was given.

For her, being forcibly sterilized was just the start of a life-long ordeal that she still struggles with to this day, more than two decades later.

“My husband wanted nothing to do with me and I had to leave with my four children (…) it was very hard, not only what happened 23 years ago, but in all the years since.” Her second partner also left her when he found out that she could not have children.

The trauma is not just psychological. “I don’t create hormones (…) I suffer from arthritis in my knee, my shoulders and my spine,” says Maria Elena, who is the president of an association that fights for the victims of forced sterilizations in Lima and Callao. “I am 50 years old, but I feel like an old 80-year-old woman. It’s not fair.”

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