This issue remains one of my outstanding debts to Peru, and one I am committed to repaying. I began my research in Ayacucho in 1996 when I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. For anyone spending time in rural communities, it was virtually impossible not hear about the women (and men) suffering the consequences of poorly performed sterilizations. There were children who asked me to visit their mothers, assuring me they had brought their mothers home from the health posts on the back of the family’s mule because the women were unable to walk. There were women who insisted their abdomens ached, and that they could no longer work in their fields. These conversations were complemented by the health care providers who sought me out — some to deny the role they had played in this “family planning campaign,” and others who sought a confessional space to admit what they had done. I recall an “obstetriz” in Cangallo whose eyes swelled with tears as she described the “Tubal Ligation Festival” in which she had participated in the nearby hospital. She told me the small medical team had sterilized 147 women in two days, a number that outpaced the available quantity of anesthesia. As the anesthetic supply ran short, the medical team was unable to fully “knock the women out,” and their screams began to scare the women seated in the waiting room. When the frightened women tried to leave, someone locked the doors of the hospital while the team continued to perform the tubal ligations midst the fear and pain. She acknowledged the quota system that had been imposed on health care workers — a certain number of women and men should be sterilized each month to comply with the Ministry of Health — but made clear that her conscience could not bend far enough to live with what she had done.
The complicity within Peru was extensive, and reached to the highest levels of the Ministry of Health and the government. But complicity in this mass violation of reproductive rights did not stop at the geopolitical boundaries of the Peruvian state. USAID was a key source of financial support, and the investigation into this widespread form of sexual violence should include this international actor.
The women and men who suffered these forced sterilizations deserve reparations. In this case, justice is terribly delayed — but need not be denied.