An indigenous Peruvian woman who says she was one of at least 300,000 people to be forcibly sterilized by the government in the 1990s is demanding justice for herself and her fellow victims — the vast majority of whom are women. Speaking with BBC News, Josefina Quispe said that health problems caused by the involuntary procedures were killing women in droves while the government continues to avoid doing anything to help them — or even acknowledge their plight.
“Almost 20 years on, all the women are suffering. They are dying now, some with cancer, with infections, with illnesses. Many women are dying now. Nobody is recognizing this,” she said. “Justice and compensation is what we’re asking for, but they are not taking any notice of us. We are going to continue fighting.”
Quispe added that she still vividly remembers the day, 20 years prior, when the then-33-year-old mother of five was taken from her village against her will — and without any explanation.
“Some were pushing my back, others were pulling me. The nurses who had brought me from my village were pulling my arms. They put me in a room and started to ask me questions,” she recalled. “They asked me everything. They said to me, ‘How many children do you have? … How long are you going to keep giving birth? How many children do you want to have? You’re giving birth like a pig, like a guinea pig.’”
But the humiliating questions, she said, were nothing compared to the suffering that was to come.
“They put me on a hospital bed and injected me. Then, I don’t know how, I went to sleep. That’s the last thing I knew. Later in the afternoon, I woke up. When I woke up my whole body was hurting. I was crying, I was saying, ‘What have you done to me? What have you done to my stomach?’ Nobody gave me an answer. Nobody even responded,” said Quispe. “In another room I heard women crying and shouting. All the women were saying, ‘They have cut our stomachs, so we can’t have children.’”
The sterilization program, which was ostensibly voluntary, was part of a national family planning scheme initiated by former President Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s that he claimed was meant to lower birth rates and reduce poverty. Thousands have since said they were forcibly sterilized against their will — in particular, poor indigenous Peruvian women who didn’t speak Spanish appear to have been deliberately targeted. According to official data, at least 18 women died in the direct aftermath of the procedures.
Fujimori, who has served time in prison for human rights abuses, was previously cleared of wrongdoing linked to the forced sterilizations. But in April, the state prosecutor ordered an indictment of Fujimori and charges against the former president and three former health ministers are expected to be re-issued.
Watch BBC News’ interview with Quispe below.