Sterilisation, story-telling and consent

Dr Matthew Brown, Reader in Latin American Studies, School of Modern Languages

Dr Matthew Brown, Reader in Latin American Studies, School of Modern Languages

I consented to being sterilised.

Why was this?

Because I was repeatedly offered the opportunity to consent to being sterilised by the National Health Service. No doubt the British state has its reasons for wanting to sterilise me (I might have too many children for some people’s liking, for example; I live in an area of social deprivation, and my political affiliations are pretty easy to ascertain from the Internet). Nevertheless, a truth remains: I was offered at least three opportunities to consent to be sterilised, and I gave my consent three times, verbally and in writing. I was given time to think it over. I walked to the neighbourhood clinic, had my tubes cut by a friendly surgeon, and hobbled home to bed and a bag of frozen peas.

I consented to being sterilised.

Others did not.

In the 1990s, three hundred thousand people were sterilised in Peru without being offered the opportunity to consent or not to the operation. Three hundred thousand people, mainly women, many of them illiterate, most of them who felt forced to be sterilised by a state that didn’t value their opinions, their lifestyles, or their ability to make choices.

Some were rounded up like animals and taken to clinics to be operated on. Others were told they had no option, that the government had said they had to be sterilised for their own good. Medical workers in the Peruvian Andes were given targets to meet – a certain number of operations performed per month – by a government that was obsessed with neoliberal policies, population control and achieving goals through target culture.

cuantos hijosWhat did it feel like to have this done to you? What are the emotional legacies of being abused in this way by the state that is supposed to protect you from violence?

My physical wounds from the operation quickly healed. I was back on my bike within four days and playing football within a fortnight. For the forcibly sterilised men and women in Peru, their suffering continues. What does it feel like to have this done to you?

For years they have tried to tell the world their stories, but it has often felt like no one has the time, or inclination, to listen.

Now they have shared their stories through the quipu project, a collaboration between Chaka Studio, myself, and Dr Karen Tucker at the University of Bristol.

© Alejandra Velez

© Alejandra Velez

The Quipu project will be showcased at the Watershed, Bristol, on Wednesday 19th March as part of the REACT showcase: future documentary, beginning at 4 p.m. Booking is required. You can read more about the Quipu project and listen to testimonies via the website. You can also read about the policy implications arising from the project in the policy briefing.

You can follow Matthew on twitter: @mateobrown

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