“It was racist to think you can target the poorest and most vulnerable members of society and make decisions for them.
How is it possible to treat women like that in the 21st Century?
They violated our human rights and our right to decide our future for ourselves.” Victoria Vigo
‘I was sterilised against my will’ – After an emergency caesarean, Victoria Vigo, then a 32-year-old mother of two children found she had been sterilised
No one sought her consent, none was given
In the 1990s Peru, president Alberto Fujimori launched a family planning programme, the ‘Voluntary Surgical Contraception’ scheme was billed as part of an anti-poverty drive
It targeted only the illiterate, poor, rural population of indigenous people, an estimated 272,000 women and 21,000 men were surreptitiously sterilised without consent
Three years after Fujimori was forced out of office, prosecutors began investigating allegations of forced sterilization
Some subjects were coerced into being sterilised in return for food or medicine.
Barbaric procedures often led to botched operations, leaving subjects horribly impaired, marginalised in their society since they can no longer bear children or work
Investigations started in 2003, most of those who were sterilised are still waiting for justice
Victoria Vigo, the only one of 300, 000 persons to win her case was awarded a paltry $2,500
Victoria Vigo found she had been sterilised without consultation. “This was going on all over Peru with doctors making decisions without properly consulting the women involved”
A young indigenous Peruvian woman found she had lost the ability to have more children after an emergency caesarean.
32-year-old Victoria Vigo discovered she had been sterilised while under. her consent was not sought, none was given. That was Alberto Fujimori’s Peru in the 1990’s. Like many others who endured the same treatment, under a diabolic state sponsored scheme, she is demanding justice.
“I wanted to have more children, but that choice was taken away from me without my permission. That was my decision to make not theirs.”
In April 1996, mother-of-two Victoria Vigo was living in the hot, coastal city of Piura in north-western Peru.
“I was 32 weeks pregnant and I wasn’t feeling very well, so I went to see my doctor,” she says. “He sent me to hospital where I ended up in accident and emergency. They evaluated me and decided to carry out an emergency caesarean.”
Vigo’s baby was born with breathing difficulties, his premature lungs weren’t properly developed and he died soon after.
“There was a doctor trying to console me saying: ‘Don’t worry, you are still young, you can have another baby.'”
But Vigo overheard another doctor say: “No, she can’t have any more children, we’ve sterilised her.”
According to Vigo, this blindsiding was going on all over Peru at the time, with doctors making decisions without bothering to consult the subjects.
Symbol of the empowering Quipu project which is championing victim’s right
During the 10-year tenure of Alberto Fujimori as president of Peru, he launched a tragic new family planning programme that resulted in the sterilisation of mostly indigenous people, in the 1990s. His scheme wrecked havoc on the target population.
It was only after Fujimori’s forced resignation in 2000 that the injustices really started to come to light. The former president is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for embezzlement and human rights abuses committed in office. unfortunately, almost all of his forced sterilization victims are still waiting for justice, going on three decades, later.
Vigo is just one of 300,000 people estimated to have been sterilised against their will in Peru between 1996 and 2000, when then-president Alberto Fujimori embarked on his lopsided sided culling of the native Inca population in what was coined as a family planning programme.
The Voluntary Surgical Contraception scheme was billed as part of an anti-poverty drive. A reported 272,000 women and 21,000 men were surreptitiously sterilised without consent in the 90’s in Peru.
Curiously, subjects were almost exclusively indigenous people living in rural areas.
Victims have maintained that this happened without their consent, but until now they have been repeatedly silenced and denied justice.
The preponderance of victims are illiterate or only speak Quechua, presenting a big obstacle to accessing the institutions of the Spanish-speaking Peruvian state
The effort to combat the inequity led to the birth ‘Quipu Project’, which has given victim’s a channel to voice their quest for justice and restitution.
Empowerment sessions by the victims’ advocates at the Quipu project – ‘Voices of victims need to be heard’
VoiTwenty years ago,Victoria Vigo began her fight back against the authorities.
“It wasn’t just about my rights, I soon realised that this was part of a national policy and there were many other women involved,” she says.
“This was going on all over Peru with doctors making decisions without properly consulting the women involved.”
After years of legal disputes Vigo eventually won her case and was awarded damages of approximating ‘a whopping $2,500’, in 2003.
To date, she is the only person in Peru who has received any form of compensation after being forcibly sterilised.
Although Alberto Fujimori is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for embezzlement and human rights abuses, most of those who were sterilised are still chasing justice, two decades later
The men and women targeted under the sterilisation programme were usually poor, indigenous Quechua-speakers, many of whom signed a piece of paper written in Spanish that they didn’t understand.
According to Rosemarie Lerner, director of the Quipu project, Fujimori was being disingenuous when he claimed the program would be a progressive plan offering a wide range of contraceptive methods, including surgical sterilisation, which had previously been illegal in Peru.
“But the truth is that instead of promoting a range of contraceptive methods there were targets, quotas and numbers of sterilizations that the health personnel had to achieve,” Lerner said.
The Quipu project is a victims’ enlightenment and empowerment program that collects and shares the testimonies of people like Vigo who were forcibly sterilised in 1990s Peru.
Quipus were an ancient recording system of threads and knots used by the Incas and ancient Andean cultures to keep records.
“We have chosen the Quipu to symbolise this project because we too are recording oral information, prompting our collective memory to ensure that the sterilizations are not forgotten,” the project’s website says.
The power of instant communication. Victims can now dial a number and exchange stories, share their experience
Under the Quipu project, people across Peru can use a free telephone line to share their stories, listen to the testimonies of others and record responses.
Recorded messages are translated into Quechua, Spanish and English and uploaded to the project’s website where they can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
Lerner’s team have been running workshops around the country to show people how to use the Quipu project website and telephone line to submit their stories. The team is currently collecting testimonies in the Amazon jungle, following a similar exercise in remote Andean communities in 2016
“Most of the stories have a common structure,” she says. “How the sterilisation campaign started, how the nurses or medical personnel came looking for women in their houses, then the actual moment of the operation and how traumatic it was. Some women were even sterilised while pregnant.”
victims testimonies include stories of coerced sterilization in return for food or medicine. The barbaric conditions led to botched operations – some of which were carried out without general anaesthetic, leave some subjects so badly injured they are unable to work after. The situation was often exacerbated by the fact that the fly by night surgical teams offered no aftercare.
female subjects describe being marginalised in their society because they can no longer work, seen as having no societal value since they can no longer bear children. The emotional toll is telling as their relationships have deteriorated or fallen apart.
Talking about the forced sterilizations is still considered taboo for many in Peru, but Lerner hopes that the Quipu project will help challenge attitudes.
“We want the women who take part in the Quipu project to understand that they’re not alone,” she says. “Thousands of them went through the same experience and they deserve to be heard.”
Quipu Project operators say they “We want the women who take part in the Quipu project to understand that they’re not alone,” she says. “Thousands of them went through the experience … they deserve to be heard.”
In 2003, three years after Fujimori was forced from power, Peruvian prosecutors began investigating allegations of forced sterilizations. Since then a number of investigations have been opened and then abandoned on many pretexts. The most recent case was shelved for a second time in December 2016 when the court said there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed.
Vigo acknowledges that she probably succeeded in suing for damages because unlike most of the other people who were sterilised against their will she is middle class, educated and speaks Spanish.
Despite the compensation she has already received, Vigo says that she and the others still need recognition.
“We want to get proper compensation, but it’s not just about the money. We need proper justice for what has happened,” she says.
“It was racist to think you can target the poorest and most vulnerable members of society and make decisions for them. How is it possible to treat women like that in the 21st Century? They violated our human rights and our right to decide our future for ourselves.”