Elena Gorolová: Illegal sterilization
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Below news server Romea.cz presents the story of nominee Elena Gorolová.
Elena Gorolová: Illegal sterilization
Elena Gorolová (age 43) has two sons. She loves them more than anything, but she wishes she could have had a little girl too. For more than 20 years she has been living with the fact that she cannot have any more children because she was sterilized without her informed choice or consent during the delivery of her second child. She is not the first woman to whom this has happened, but she is the first to take a public stand against it in the Czech Republic.
“I believed the doctor”
Elena gave birth twice by Caesarian section. During her second delivery there were complications. “I was removed from the delivery room to an operating room. I was lying there in great pain and a doctor came to me with a paper for me to sign because otherwise I might die,” she remembers.
Elena was not able to reflect under the circumstances and the word “sterilization” meant nothing to her, but she believed the doctor knew what he was doing. She signed the paper.
The supervising physician came to see her after the delivery and she immediately asked him what had been done to her. “He told me straight out that I would never be able to have children again and then he left,” she says with tears in her eyes.
Elena was in shock: “I remember how long I kept going over it in my head, asking if it was seriously the truth.” As soon as she got home, a midwife visited her and explained everything. “I learned that it was 100 % certain. I felt inferior.”
“I want everyone to know this”
Years later, while watching television, Elena learned about a local group of women who had all been sterilized without their informed choice or consent and went to take a look at what they were doing. “I wasn’t working back then, so I had a lot of time, and I wanted to start doing something,” she says. Elena started regularly attending the group, organizing meetings and demonstrations, and doing her best to publicize the whole problem.
“When the others in the group discovered how active I was and that I was doing my best to get this problem before the public, they told me they would be glad if I would be their press spokesperson,” Elena says. She was glad to agree to the offer, as many of the other women did not want to show their faces on camera.
Elena has never been bothered by the toll of publicity. “I want everyone to know about this,” she says.
Not just Romani women
Elena Gorolová and other women filed complaints with the Czech ombudsman. “There were a total of 80 complaints and about 50 of them were recognized as justified,” she clarifies. None of the women had been provided enough time between the moment they had been "informed" about the option of sterilization and the moment they signed their consent to the operation, which meant their “consent” was not sufficiently informed and therefore invalid.
All of the complaints filed with the ombudsman were from Romani women, but shortly thereafter, non-Romani women started contacting Elena as well. “They told me they wanted to support us, but when they found out the other women in the group were Romani, they refused to come to our meetings,” Elena says. None of them have reportedly ever filed complaints.
The Government has apologized to us
The women turned to the Czech Government with their complaints as well. “We kept submitting things and they kept being swept under the carpet. The change came about with [Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister] Kocáb, and we were told that they would be apologizing to us,” Elena said.
So far only two women who filed charges and whose cases were eventually deemed admissible by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg have received compensation from the government. “I would also have liked to have filed charges, but there wasn’t enough financing for it,” Elena says.
“They say I’m just doing this for money”
The group has started to become famous abroad. Elena has been visited by journalists and people from other nonprofit organizations, not just at the group’s meeting space, but even in her home. Through a colleague she even attended a UN conference in New York addressing racial discrimination against women.
Her fight has not been easy. “I have often encountered the opinion that I am doing this only for money. That has even been said inside our community. People around me started to envy me my work, the fact that I was traveling lots of places or that I was on television a lot,” Elena says.
Elena is glad that she has persisted and that despite these negative responses, there are have also been some results. “Involuntary sterilizations aren’t happening here anymore, which I am very pleased about, but there is still a need to improve the legislation on this issue. I can only hope to get lucky and at least have a granddaughter someday.”
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