Elena Gorolová on forced sterilizations: We seek compensation, nobody will ever restore our motherhood
"The financial compensation we seek is not everything. You can't buy your own child, you can't acquire what you've lost - the option of motherhood," Elena Gorolová, who has been fighting for 11 years for compensation for women who have been improperly sterilized in the former Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic, told news server iDNES.cz last week.
She herself is one of the survivors of this treatment - at the age of 21 she was forcibly sterilized by a doctor at a maternity hospital in the Vítkovice quarter of Ostrava, the country's third-largest city, during the birth of her second son. Her "consent" to the procedure was obtained by asking her to sign papers while she was in labor, without anybody providing her an explanation of what it would entail.
"I didn't study what I was signing - when you're in pain like that it's all the same to you what else is happening, you just pick up the pen and sign when they ask you to," she told the paper. In 2004 she was one of 80 women who contacted then-ombudsperson Otakar Motejl and asked him to investigate.
For 50 of those complaints the ombudsperson was able to prove that the sterilization procedures had not been lawful. According to Gorolová, however, the number of women whom the situation concerns is much higher, as 150 women have already turned to her for assistance with their own cases since then.
She sees progress during the last 11 years in the fact that today the survivors of forced sterilization are appearing in public and telling their stories. Ten years ago they convened a demonstration in front of the Fifejdy Hospital in Ostrava, where many of them were forcibly sterilized by doctors during the course of delivery.
"I met with the staff of the hospitals, I discussed what happened with them. Sometimes they told me that they had never performed any sterilizations illegally, in other places they admitted that it happened, that they had instructions to limit the birth of Romani children," she said.
Gorolová considers it important that the approach toward the performance of sterilization today has changed, as has the legislation regulating it. "Today a woman must given absolutely clear informed consent and she gets time to think about it. In 2009, under Prime Minister Fischer and Human Rights Minister Kocáb, the Czech Government finally apologized to us. That is a certain satisfaction for us, but it's not enough," she said.
Last October the Government rejected a proposal by Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier according to which each woman harmed by forced sterilization would receive compensation in the amount of CZK 300 000 (EUR 11 000). Not only Romani women have been forcibly sterilized.
Non-Romani women have sometimes contacted Gorolová about their own cases, but according to her, when the non-Romani women realized there were only Romani women in the group she works with, most of them did not want to join. "I would be very glad if they would join us, because it could only help us all," she said.
Tomorrow, 9 June, Gorolová and four other women will be telling their stories through a theater performance called "Stories That (Never) Began" at Cooltour in Ostrava. The performance begins at 18:30, admission is by voluntary donation.
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