Everyone deserves respect

03 August 2012

THE judgement in the case of the three women claim’s of over N$1 million each in damages from the Government for having undergone forced sterilisations dominated the week’s headlines.
No one knows the final outcome yet, because the Government might still appeal the case.

The whole saga nevertheless raises troubling questions about the level of respect public officials in the country show for people’s human and individual rights.
As a country, we should regard a woman’s right to bear children as sacred and perhaps as the most basic of all fundamental human rights and freedoms.
That makes it even more shocking and horrendous to contemplate the idea that women might have undergone forced sterilisations in our public healthcare system.
Whether or not the courts definitively rule that doctors in State hospitals forcibly sterilised the three women the suspicion will always remain that it may have happened to other women.
There is probably no country in the world where people can claim to live in an ideal society, and they would be naive to think that they do.
However, as Namibians, we have a right to expect that we enjoy the same rights, and have the right to equal treatment.
Like the Seven Commandments in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, the precepts by which we live seem to have degenerated into “All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others”.
Much of the court case surrounding the sterilisations seems to have revolved around whether the women gave ‘informed consent’ to the procedure.
The court ruled that they did not, because they could not give informed consent while in a life threatening situation; probably in excruciating pain during an advanced state of labour.
In the case of some of them, there seems to be some doubt about whether they gave any consent at all, whether informed or otherwise
Some reports suggest the consent they gave related to caesarean sections rather than sterilisation.
In addition, one wonders whether illiterate or semi-literate women who maybe did not even understand the language of the person is speaking would be able to give genuine informed consent without assistance or counselling.
Furthermore, it seems irrelevant whether the women were HIV positive or not.
It should be obvious that even if a woman is HIV positive it would be a gross violation of her human rights to sterilise her without her consent.
In the final analysis, it seems clear that this probably only happened to these women because of their relatively low socio-economic status.
Somehow, one doubts that doctors would have been so cavalier if it involved educated or financially better off women with a higher social status.
The danger exists of doctors developing a “God complex”, where they feel they hold the power of life and death over people and can do whatever they like because they think people are in no position to question their knowledge or judgement.
It seems to have become increasingly common for public officials to ride roughshod over the poor, less educated and often rural section of the population.
The examples are legion. They range from nurses in hospitals being abusive toward pregnant women from lower-income groups giving birth in hospitals.
Sometimes when women cry out in pain while giving birth they callously shout, “Serves you right. You shouldn’t have had sex without a condom,” although in reality they use far less polite language.
Often the police treat poorer, less educated people abusively and they are far more likely to become victims of police harassment, brutality or false arrest.
Generally, the ordinary person is less likely to have their problems attended to, or receive prompt and considerate service from Government ministries, public agencies or local authorities.
Municipalities indiscriminately bulldoze people’s homes in low-income informal settlements.
However, when people in more affluent parts of town violate building codes officials seem less in a hurry to bring out the bulldozers.
If a poor person steals a loaf of bread or a chocolate bar in a supermarket the courts hand down a speedy conviction – sometimes meting out harsh jail sentences.
On the other side of the coin, where people face allegations of corruption involving tens or even hundreds of millions Namibian dollars the criminal justice system moves at a snail’s pace and no one ever seems to go to jail.
The attitude that you somehow measure a human being’s worth by their socio-economic status, the amount of money they have or their level of education is something we should fight against tooth and nail.
With the exception of some anti-social elements, every human life has equal worth and every human being deserves respect!



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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