Forced sterilization and the dictatorship over our wombs

Welcome to the Clandestine’s column, Children of the Patriarchy! Every other Wednesday we will post a column on anything and everything patriarchy related. Whilst most of us are already painfully aware of the patriarchal structure surrounding us, we often do not realise how deeply rooted its effects are. That’s why we are here! Every week we will be calling out the patriarchy left and right, whether that is at KCL, in the UK or in the wider world. Because whether we want to or not, we are all Children of the Patriarchy and the responsibility of cleaning this mess up, falls upon us.

[Featured Image: Illustration representing the Uyghur women in Xinjiang, China. A hand with the Chinese flag depicted silence the women and cover their mouths. Source.]

Many practices that restricted womxn’s behaviour in the past, we now view as horrific and completely wrong. Womxn, at least in the western world, are allowed to get an education, to work, to own property. In many ways, womxn’s status in society has improved. In other ways, however, we really have not made very much progress. Womxn’s bodies continue to be policed throughout the world, whether that be through laws limiting or even banning abortion, a human right, or through other ways of taking away womxn’s autonomy over their bodies. Have we really come a long way in fighting the patriarchy, or are some of the things happening now just the latest in a long history of oppressing womxn?

The term ‘Eugenics’ was coined in 1883 by English polymath Francis Galton. His work inspired the German Society for Racial Hygiene in Berlin, which later had a massive influence on “euthanasia” policies in Nazi-Germany. Modern eugenic theory equally has been influenced by Galton’s theories. The first modern eugenics theories actively opposed childbearing between ‘inferior’ people, namely impoverished people. Later, this research shifted towards ‘positive’ rather than ‘negative’ eugenics, promoting childbearing between those that were ‘intellectually and physically superior’. The underlying thought was that this would improve humanity as a whole.

While these ideas and practices may seem distant, practices and theories like this have and still existed in the years since Galton’s first coined the term. In 1930, 24 states in the United States of America enacted eugenic sterilization laws. 6 years later, over 60.000 people had been forcibly sterilized. By contrast, under the Nazi-regime in Germany an approximated 300.000-400.000 people were sterilized. Even after World War II, forced sterilizations continue to be a part of our reality. 

In recent years, forced sterilization has been reported to happen in countries all over the globe. Primarily, the horrendous practice has been used to target womxn who are impoverished, ethnic and racial minorities, living with HIV or womxn with disabilities. The systemic nature of the practice needs to be addressed. Discrimination against womxn continues to take place on every level, it is naïve to believe we have come far. While we may not have to endure the things womxn had to endure years ago, we cannot simply be satisfied with the progress we have made, and subsequently forget about the progress that still needs to be made. As long as practices like forced sterilization take place, equality between genders is a complete myth.

The discourse surrounding forced sterilization, as well as other attempts to take away womxn’s autonomy such as restrictive abortion laws, seems to always imply there is a greater good being served. Whether it was in the early stages of eugenics, when researchers argued ‘inferior’ people (really meaning those of a lower social class) should be prevented from childbearing, or in later stages of the practice, when it was argued ‘feebleminded’ womxn should not be having children for the sake of themselves and the child. In reality, this is never the case and these reasons are most often fallacies to hide even more horrible practices behind. When women in the 50s and 60s were being forcibly sterilized in the United States, they were very likely simply to be single womxn who were sexually active. What greater good was exactly being served here?

While for many of us the 50s and 60s in the United States seems very far away, the same lies and deception is being used nowadays to oppress minorities and to take away the autonomy of womxn. Genocide is being committed under the guise of ‘bettering society’. Since 2017, researchers have been documenting widespread detaining of Uyghur Muslims under a policy called an ‘anti-extremism program’ by the Chinese government. In reality, these ‘re-education camps’ are not actually re-educating people, they are interned because of their religion. The authorities claim the extreme measures are necessary to achieve national unity and ensure national security.

Between 2015 and 2018, births in the Xinjiang region have collapsed by more than 60 per cent. After 2018, government data was no longer available. By comparison, nationwide births only collapsed by 4 per cent. In a painful comparison, the country’s Han majority is encouraged to have more children.

In an article published early January of this year, China Daily reported on a research about the demographics of Xinjiang. The Xinjiang Development Research Center, a state-run thinktank concluded that the Chinese government was successfully eradicating extremism and was ‘emancipating the minds of Uyghur womxn’, in order for them to no longer be ‘baby-making machines’.

The lies and deception the Chinese government is currently using to cover up the forced sterilization happening after widespread detentions of Uyghur Muslims is not only completely horrific, but also a slap in the face of those who had to undergo such procedures against their will. The pretense of feminism, the idea that the policies of the Chinese government are helping these womxn become emancipated are completely false. The objective of the Chinese government is not at all to emancipate these women, it is to oppress the Uyghur community and to commit genocide. The research claiming the demographics of Xinjiang are to do with Uyghur women no longer being ‘baby-making machines’ is nothing more but the latest in a long history of lies about forced sterilization.

The question as to whether we really have come a long way, then seems to have a painfully unwanted answer. We cannot expect to truly believe we have come a long way, when the facts seem to be pointing in a different direction. While some of the practices that were used in the past to oppress womxn may not be used anymore, so many still continue to exist. It is even more painful to see the history of lies we use to cover up the real reasons behind the oppression of womxn and minorities. The idea that forced sterilization can ever be done solely for the sake of a womxn is a completely fallacy. Just as the forced sterilization of single womxn in the 50s and 60s in the United States was cruel and unjust, equally so is the forced sterilization of Uyghur womxn in current times horrific. There cannot be gender equality until we are absolutely clear about the intentions of such practices. One thing is certain: the sake of the womxn is nowhere on the minds of the people carrying out such practices. 


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