Horror stories

Roma women in the Czech Republic recount grief, shame after forced sterilizations

Roma women with children chat in a village in Romania. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

Elena Gorovola grew up in the Czech Republic during a time that was brutal for Roma women. For more than 50 years during the Communist Era in Czechoslovakia through the early 2000s, Roma women were subjected to involuntary, forced sterilization in an attempt by the government to bring down the birth rate. Now, the women who suffered under the state policy are telling their stories in a new play, Stories That Have (Never) Begun, in Ostrava.

One of the women in the play tells the story of how she was told the sterilization would be temporary, for just five years, and that all women in the community were doing it. Another was given a blank piece of paper to sign while giving birth to another child. She was promptly anesthetized and when she awoke learned she’d been sterilized after discovering a scar on her abdomen. Others were promised money or threatened, and one says she was not even told she’d been sterilized during the birth of another baby. The women say they experienced grief over the loss of their abilities to have any other children, shame and rejection from their husbands, and had difficulty finding new romantic partners.

“To be able to have children is so important for a woman,” Gorovola told Al Jazeera. “When they took that away from me, I felt worthless. I completely lost my self-esteem.”

The women have organized recently to put on the play and demand acknowledgment and compensation from the Czech government.

“The play is another way for these women to express their frustration,” says Katerina Cervena of the League of Human Rights. “It’s a way for them to find an alternative voice.”

Read the full story at Al Jazeera.

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