Trans people forced to be sterilized across Europe

Council of Europe tells 29 member countries coerced sterilization of transgender people is a major human rights abuse, urges action

Trans people forced to be sterilized across Europe
30 April 2013

Twenty-nine countries in Europe are insisting transgender people are sterilized before their true gender is recognized in law.

That represents a major abuse of human rights and must stop, says a new report from the Council of Europe.

In many European countries, sterilization or sex reassignment surgery or both are a requirement for the country to legally recognize a transgender person in his or her new gender.

While gender reassignment surgery may incidentally cause someone to become sterile, some countries also insist on sterilization.

Richard Köhler, policy and capacity officer for Transgender Europe (TGEU) told Gay Star News: ‘Forced sterilization is a reality for a lot of trans people in a lot of countries. Trans people are the only group in Europe who are prescribed by law to go through sterilization.

‘The debates have shown conservatives are really afraid of the “pregnant man” so they want to insist on sterilization.’

While some people want full gender reassignment surgery, others recognize the operations are complicated and can be traumatic and either don’t want to complete that process or are not capable of doing so.

But by insisting on full sterilization before you can be legally registered with your true, new gender identity the rules at present deny people the right to decide what they do with their own bodies.

Nigel Warner of ILGA-Europe, the continent-wide LGBT rights organization, said: ‘The old fashioned view in the trans community is that this is what is required but the operations are difficult and do not always work and not everyone is capable of going through them.’

This creates day-to-day problems for people who are living in their true, new gender but haven’t been sterilized so don’t have the legal paperwork to back up their identity, says Köhler.

He told GSN: ‘This has an immense impact on them. Any time they have to use an identity card that does not reflect their gender identity, it can create problems.

‘And the whole existence of this requirement sets a mindset that people understand to be truly trans you have to be sterilized. So this shapes the debate.

‘It is the violation of a most basic human right but a lot of people feel they are not in a position to argue against it.’

The problem exists across Europe, in countries with otherwise progressive LGBT policies, like France and The Netherlands, and with those who are less accepting of gay and trans citizens like Poland.

Only Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom don’t insist on it by law with Hungary avoiding the problem in practice. Sweden’s law will change soon.

In Russia some authorities insist on sterilization before trans people are recognized, even though there is no legal basis for their actions.

Warner added: ‘It is only in the last 10 years that people have realized this was a horrendous human rights violation.’

The Council of Europe report particularly highlights the case of Sweden where it estimates 600 people have been coerced into being sterilized under a 1972 law requiring the change before they could have their true gender recognized.

That law will be changed on 1 July after it became a major public embarrassment for the country.

Meanwhile 160 trans people who went through sterilization are taking legal steps against the government for compensation and have described the anguish this caused them. They want 200,000 Swedish Krona ($310,000 €237,000) or will take court action.

The report was created for the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

It will now go to the whole assembly in June and there are high hopes it will be adopted.

The assembly is made up of representatives from parliaments across Europe’s 47 member states. Unlike the entirely separate European Union, the council can’t make binding laws but its Committee of Ministers, made up of foreign ministers from around Europe, does make joint decisions and the parliamentary group is influential in this.

As Warner points out this ‘confronts’ the ministers with the issue.

But the Council of Europe has pushed on this issue before. In 2010, member states were told they should review their policies but reports back indicated many were avoiding the issue.

Köhler said: ‘This report is very important but it won’t overthrow everything overnight.’

If the report’s recommendations are acted on in full, it may see transgender people apologized to alongside victims of Nazi sterilization programs and others from across Europe, including Roma women and the disabled.

The report concludes: ‘In all cases, as rare, individual or historic as they may be, official apologies and at least symbolic compensation must also be given.’

Forced or coerced sterilization of trans people exists in some form in:

  • Belgium
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Malta
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine

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