Transgender rights: the shame of mandatory sterilisation

On 6 April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) finally ruled that mandatory sterilisation of individuals who legally change gender is a violation of their human rights.

The ruling was made in three joint cases against France. This however does not necessarily mean transgender people are less likely to be threatened than before. According to Transgender Europe[1], the countries that require sterilisation before changes in the legal status of any individual are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine. The new legal standard will now apply to the 47 states signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). None have yet changed their laws. Some of them mandate surgical removal of genitalia and reproductive organs while other requirements more vaguely call for procedures that produce ‘irreversible infertility’. 22 of the 47 member states will now have to change their laws.

There are two forthcoming cases in the Bulgarian and Macedonian courts where proper application of article 8 of the Convention, providing for the ‘right to respect for private and family life’, will be tested. The ECHR has no strong enforcement powers.

France only removed the sterilisation requirement and adopted new procedures for legally changing a name and gender last October. Compulsory gender redefinition was found to be unlawful in Austria only in 2009 and two years later in Germany. Mandatory sterilisation – a cause of scandal there in 1998 – was finally outlawed in Sweden in 2012. In April 2016, after a long struggle, the Swedish government agreed to compensate transgender victims of forced sterilisation, a requirement for legal gender recognition until 2013. 160 people successfully brought the case which now means all victims can seek economic redress. Norway removed mandatory sterilisation in 2014 and it legislated for quick, accessible and transparent legal gender recognition in June 2016. However, many European countries still require applicants for legal change of sexual status to undergo a mental health diagnosis or medical examinations before the legal change is permitted. These were not deemed to contradict the Convention. The Danish Parliament legislated to remove transgender identity from the list of mental illnesses in May 2016.

Transgender people are disproportionally affected by unemployment and suffer from antagonistic attitudes and discrimination in public and in private. There is no safe country for transgender people. Since 2008 more than 100 murders of transgender people have been documented in Europe.

In an article titled 'The true banner of capitalism' in FRFI 140 December 1997/January 1998, we showed the shocking extent to which sterilisation and a range of other medical abuses was used systematically across imperialist states to abuse, intimidate and divide working class people.

Alvaro Michaels



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