“We have succeeded by speaking out”

Elena Gorolova campaigns for justice for Romani women affected by forced sterilization in the Czech Republic © Private
Elena Gorolova campaigns for justice for Romani women affected by forced sterilization in the Czech Republic © Private

Forced sterilization of Romani women is one of the most horrendous human rights violations and forms of discrimination that Roma have suffered in Europe since their persecution and murder by the Nazis during the Second World War.

According to the Czech Ombudsman, as many as 90,000 women have been sterilized in the territory of the former Czechoslovakia since the 1980s. Although most forced sterilizations were carried out in the 1970s and 1980s, the most recent reportedly occurred in 2007.

Elena Gorolova is a powerful campaigner for justice for Romani women affected by forced sterilization in the Czech Republic. She spoke to Amnesty International campaigners and lobbyists in Brussels about her experience:

For many years in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, pregnant Roma women have been forcibly sterilized after going into hospital to give birth. It involves a surgical procedure performed without the woman’s consent that prevents them from ever getting pregnant again by blocking her fallopian tubes. Doctors have targeted Romani women for this procedure – often during Caesarean sections or abortions – and have not gained full and informed consent before carrying it out.

I joined a group of women activists in Ostrava, where I live, part of an association called Life Together (Vzajemne Soužiti), who campaign against forced sterilization.

I joined because I was myself forcibly sterilized when I was 21 years old, immediately after I gave birth to my second son. A nurse came up to me with a form to fill in the name to give the child, depending on whether it would be a boy or girl. She then gave me another paper and asked me to sign for the sterilization. At the time I had no idea what that meant. I was in great pain, so I signed the paper. When I woke up after the operation I was told I had given birth to a son, but I would never be able to have children again as I had been sterilized. I began to cry. My husband and I always wanted to have a daughter. Like this we found out we could not anymore.

I wanted to be a normal woman and have a normal family, but after the forced sterilization I feel incomplete.

One thing we’ve succeeded in is changing the hospitals’ attitude – we have done this by becoming visible, by getting out there, in the media across the region, and speaking out.

We have taken our messages to many places; I have travelled to UN meetings in Geneva to testify on what’s been happening and I have spoken in other official forums to get the message across.

We achieved an official apology from the Czech government in 2009, but this is not enough – we want these women to receive compensation for what happened to them.

I must thank the women I work with; their contribution to this fight has been crucial. And even though many say we haven’t changed that much, for me even the Government’s official apology – saying that these sterilizations were indeed illegal – is a great step forward.