The Scope of Eugenics: Call for Submissions

Eugenics Archives (eugenicsarchive.ca) is pleased to announce a four-day workshop at the Banff Centre, May 22nd-25th, 2015, in Banff, Alberta. To acknowledge the significant contributions made by students to the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada project over the past four years, we invite submissions from early career scholars—students and those within three years of completing their doctorates—from any discipline on topics related to eugenics and its contemporary significance.

Submissions should consist of a single document that includes a (i) summary abstract (<150 words), (ii) longer description (<750 words) outlining the presentation and explaining the relevance of the topic to eugenics, (iii) short biographical statement (<100 words), and (iv) CV. Possible topics include, but are in no way restricted to, the following :

Apologies to eugenics survivors / Child welfare /
Collective memory / Human diversity /
Nationalism / Quality of life /
Queer sexuality / Roma peoples /
Schizophrenia / World Health Organization /
Whiteness / Particular Countries / Geographic Regions

The project director is happy to provide feedback to potential participants on these and other suggestions (e.g., on particular countries or regions of the world). Participants are expected to attend the whole workshop and to contribute a short article to eugenicsarchive.ca, ideally based on their presentation, within one month of the workshop. Articles accessible via the Encyc or Around the World modules at the site indicate the type of article we have in mind.

Accommodation and meals for all workshop participants will be covered by Eugenics Archives. Participants will also be notified upon acceptance if we are able to cover in full, or contribute to in part, additional travel expenses. The workshop will allow for substantial opportunities to enjoy the Banff surrounds and will encourage networking, mentoring, and informal discussion between junior scholars interested in eugenics and Eugenics Archives team members.

Deadline for submissions : February 15th, 2015 Acceptances : March 15th, 2015

Questions and submissions to the project director, Professor Rob Wilson : scopeofeugenics@gmail.com

Forced Sterilization of Romani Women

“I decided to come out with my story so that it doesn’t happen to other women, to our children, to our grandchildren. So that they never find themselves in the situation I am in today.”

Elena Gorolova, victim of forced sterilization, interview for Romedia’s I’m a Roma Woman campaign

Elena Gorolova

Between 1971 and 1991 in Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic and Slovakia, the “reduction of the Roma population” through surgical sterilization, performed without the knowledge of the women themselves, was a widespread governmental practice. The sterilization would be performed on Romani women without their knowledge during Caesarean sections or abortions. Some of the victims claim that they were made to sign documents without understanding their content. By signing these documents, they involuntarily authorized the hospital to sterilize them. In exchange, they sometimes were offered financial compensation or material benefits like furniture from Social Services – though it was not explicitly stated what this compensation was for. The justification for sterilization practices according to the stakeholders was “high, unhealthy” reproduction.

They sterilized thousands of Roma women in this way. The Czech ombudsman estimated that more than 90,000 women from former Czechoslovakia became infertile as a consequence of such interventions. If the evidence for such treatments performed in the past is not alarming enough, there seems to be proof that this practice was not only common during the Communist era: there are women reporting the same crime in post-Communist times as well, even after Czechoslovakia split into Czech Republic and Slovakia. In what is today Slovakia, 1000 Roma women and girls were sterilized annually in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the practice of forced sterilization in this region of Europe seems to persist to some extent, with cases emerging in other countries as well.

The European Roma Rights Centre pointed at two cases of Romani women who were sterilized in Hungary without their consent. One of them relates back to 2001, when a young woman, A.S. accused a hospital for sterilizing her without her knowledge. Following eight years of intensive lobbying, with several organizations started pressuring the government, in 2009 the Hungarian state compensated A.S. The court acknowledged that the surgery was performed without her knowledge, but it also claimed that the surgery did not harm A.S.’s reproductive capacity as the sterilization was purportedly “reversible”. The second case taken up by ERRC is still in process, as it was rejected in the first instance by the Hungarian Court.[1]

The victims of forced sterilization have begun to speak out against these crimes by creating a movement to stop forced sterilization and bring justice to the victims in the Czech Republic as well. Czech Romani activist Elena Gorolova was one of those who started the movement by founding Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization. She is a victim too, sterilized while having her second child in 1990. Mrs Gorolova, like many other Romani women, was not able to file a civil lawsuit because the deadline for seeking legal action had already expired. Nevertheless, she tried to pursue legal justice with other women, moving her case from the local to the national and international level. They organized demonstrations, such as the one in Ostrava in front of the hospital infamous for sterilizing Romani women in large numbers. Elena is one of the eighty-seven women who sent their complaints to the Czech ombudsman, reporting forced sterilization. In December 2005, in his final statement on the issue, the ombudsman declared that sterilizations performed on Romani women are illegal.[2]

The story of Elena and the others is not the first policy of compulsory sterilization in history. The first was documented in the US in the beginning of the 20th century. African-American women were sterilized against their will, many of them without their knowledge, while they were in a hospital for other reasons or sometimes even while serving a prison sentence. More than 65,000 individuals were sterilized in 33 states in the framework of compulsory sterilization programs. This US policy was followed by several other countries, including Canada, Russia and Germany, that approved compulsory sterilization as a governmental practice.

In the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, many lawsuits ended with the victory of the victims of sterilization. However, most of the pursuers kept their identity secret or the outcome of the case was not made public for other reasons. Elena Ferencikova was the first Roma women to sue the Czech Health Authority in 2005 for the damages she suffered when they sterilized her at the age of only nineteen.[3] The court didn’t decide on financial compensation but the hospital where they performed the intervention apologized for sterilizing Elena without her agreement, damaging her future and her harming her status in her community. At the time of the intervention, she was a young bride, with the dream of having a big family.

Until the most recent past, over 87 Romani women filed an official complaint against the Czech health authority The first action on the government’s behalf was an apology in 2009 during a press conference, followed by the report from the Czech Ombudsman about the illegality of the practice in 2005.[4]

Among the individual cases which ended in favor of the victims is that of Iveta Červeňáková who sued the Czech Republic for sterilizing her about fourteen years ago. Her case was in front of the Ostrava Regional Court for one million Czech crowns compensation, since she never requested the surgery. After losing the case, the hospital appealed to the High Court in Olomouc, claiming that her right for financial compensation expired and she can only win an apology. But their statement was not accepted and the Czech Supreme Court decided that Ms Červeňáková still has the right for financial compensation. The case was concluded with an out of court settlement between the hospital and the victim. The details are confidential between the two parties. [5]

The above case seems to be rather typical: the content of out of court settlements is not made public and the reason that women gained mere apologies from the hospitals is usually due to an allegedly expired right for financial compensation. On the other hand, there are cases whose outcome was made public, like one from 2012: the court made the decision that the government was at fault and the woman in question should receive a compensation of EUR 10,000.[6]

Looking at several cases of forced sterilization, a serious infringement of human rights is what should be emphasized, as reflected also by the recommendations from the NGOs’ side, the ERRC and the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, who all stress the need for developing a compensation mechanism for all victims of sterilization. A well-functioning mechanism is needed since not all victims are literate enough, have the financial sources, or the knowledge to ask for justice in court. Majority of Czech ministers agreed and a mechanism should be developed by the end of 2013, as part of the already existing legal framework. However, there is a concern that many of the affected women will still be excluded from the opportunity to gain justice.[7]

To add a personal perspective on the issues at stake, I see many reasons justify the need for the government to develop a compensation mechanism. For instance, trends show they are losing cases on the international level. Developing such a mechanism would mean that the cases would remain on the local or national level. Another reason could be financial: whatever compensation mechanism the government develops, the amount of compensation is not equivalent to the cases decided by the European Court of Human Rights. The third reason could be that authorities are trying to escape the negative backlash caused by not assuming responsibility and not criminalizing this governmental practice. In conclusion, the development of a compensation mechanism could keep “embarrassing” cases from reaching international publicity, which could lead to public ignorance if no one realizes how many actual victims there are and in what circumstances these crimes happened.

Of course, one could also argue that after years of injustice affecting hundreds of women, the fact that some women will receive justice might pave the way for others. Still, the question must be asked: is this enough? Is compensation enough? I am concerned that whatever compensation they eventually receive, the truly important development would be if governments themselves are seriously pushed to criminalize forced sterilization: only this could prevent these horrible stories from repeating themselves.

While human rights can be violated by individuals or by institutions, they can only be defended by institutions. The European Court of Human Rights does not deal with single individuals who have committed crimes. Rather, it focuses on why the government in question could not take action against what happened. But where are the doctors, politicians and all the people who personally contributed to or carried out such surgeries, and when they are going to take responsibility for their actions? In order to take action against this human rights violation, blaming the Communist regime is not enough. The practice continues today and forcibly sterilized Romani women are still a long way from receiving true justice.

Written by: Galya Stoyanova, Romani intern at Romedia Foundation

[1] Albert, Gwendolyn. “Forced Sterilization and Romani Women’s Resistance in Central Europe.” Forced Sterilization and Romani Women’s Resistance in Central Europe. N.p., 2011. <http://popdev.hampshire.edu/sites/popdev/files/uploads/u1149/DT_71_Albert.pdf&gt;.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Holt, Ed. Roma women reveal that forced sterilization remains. N.p., 12 Mar. 2005. Web. <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)71063-1/fulltext&gt;.

[4] Decade of Roma Inclusion . Czech Prime Minister Apologizes to Victims of Coercive Sterilization. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.romadecade.org/czech_prime_minister_apologizes_to_victims_of_coercive_sterilization&gt;.

[5] Stop Torture in Healthcare. <http://www.stoptortureinhealthcare.org/news-and-resources/forced-sterilization/czech-hospital-pays-romani-woman-forcibly-sterilized-14-year&gt;

[6] ROMEA. Czech Gov. compensates another woman over illegal sterilization. N.p., 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.romea.cz/en/news/czech/czech-govt-compensates-another-woman-over-illegal-sterilization#&gt;.

[7] Open Society Foundations. Against her will – Forced and coerced sterilization of women worldwide.

<http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/against-her-will-20111003.pdf&gt;

Living Archives Interactive Website World Wide Release

The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada has launched the ‘long awaited’ website on Friday Oct 24, 2014. You can explore the website now by typing in this URL: http://eugenicsarchive.ca/

BIG thanks to the technical team, Natasha Nunn (Tech team lead), Ben McMahen, and Colette Leung! Numerous Living Archives team members have contributed to the content.

In the weeks to come the site will be filled with more content as articles are still being returned from reviews and a few section are stil be worked on.

Please share the website and watch for new additions to come!

Exploring Eugenics: a Workshop

Friday September 12, 2014, 10:30 am – Noon, at Concordia University, Montreal (PR-100, at 210 MacKay Street)

In this interactive workshop that should appeal to students and researchers from a range of disciplines—including philosophy, history, science studies, sociology, education, biology—Rob Wilson will lead participants through a hands-on introduction to the multi-media, developmental website of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada project (www.eugenicsarchives.ca). Team members have worked with eugenics survivors and a variety of community partners over the past four years to build a range of educational resources for exploring the largely unknown history of eugenics in Canada. The developmental website, which will go public later in the Fall, is structured around about 10 modules and includes survivor video narratives, a look at eugenics ‘around the world’, a connections module that provides a ’mind map’ of eugenics concepts, and a eugenics timeline. The workshop will provide an introduction and overview of (a) the project, (b) the history of eugenics and its connection to contemporary ideas and policies, and (c) the educational tools themselves. Participants will benefit most if they can bring a laptop, though this is not required to participate.

Rob Wilson is Professor of Philosophy and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, and the principal investigator of the CURA-funded Living Archives project. Rob works in various areas of philosophy, including the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, the philosophy of biology, the history of philosophy, and disability studies, and his workshops and lectures are typically aimed at a broad interdisciplinary audience. He is director of Philosophy for Children Alberta, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and currently serves as the program co-chair for the next meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, to will be held in Montreal in July 2015. Rob will also be giving a philosophy colloquium on Friday, 12th September, at 3.30, ‘Knowing Agency from the Margins’ (http://philosophy.concordia.ca/).

Reflections on World Down Syndrome Day 2014

March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day, and 2014 is the ninth year in which it has been held, and the third in which it has been recognized by the United Nations. I want to start this post with an already-widely viewed video from CoorDown that has been up for less than a week, and step back from there.  The video is called “DEAR FUTURE MOM”:

At the time of writing, this video had been viewed over 1.6 million times in 6 days, with over 500 comments on it.  It’s clearly designed to be emotional and to directly send a number of messages, including at least these: anxieties about having a child with Down syndrome are understandable but overblown; children with Down syndrome will likely bring much joy and richness to the lives of any family they are in, and particularly to mothers; and Down syndrome does not obliterate or subhumanize the person who has it.

The need for those messages, and perhaps others, to be sent, loud and clear, is grounded in the sad fact that parental fears associated with potentially having a child who will have Down syndrome are amongst the highest risk factors for people with Down syndrome.  This is because Continue reading

Truth & Reconciliation Commission – Edmonton March 27 – 30, 2014

For 116 years, thousands of Aboriginal children in Alberta were sent to Indian Residential Schools funded by the federal government and run by the churches. They were taken from their families and communities in order to be stripped of language, cultural identity and traditions.

Canada’s attempt to wipe out Aboriginal cultures failed. But it left an urgent need for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

There were more Indian Residential Schools in Alberta than in any other province. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is holding its Alberta National Event in Edmonton this year.

Come and share your truth about the schools and their legacy. Witness and celebrate the resilience of Aboriginal cultures.
(excerpt from TRC.ca)

Alberta National Event – March 27 – 30, 2014 will be held in Edmonton at the Shaw Conference Centre 9797 Jasper Avenue. No registration needed to attend. Those wishing to provide a statement to the Commission may register onsite during the event.

You can download the program click here

On Thursday March 20 from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm at the University of Alberta, Lister Centre, Maple Leaf Room
Understanding the TRC: Exploring Reconciliation, Intergenerational Trauma, and Indigenous Resistance featuring:

Commissioner Dr. Wilton Littlechild
Dr. Rebecca Sockbeson
Dr. Ian Mosby
James Daschuk
Dr. Keavy Martin
Tanya Kappo
Moderated by Jodi Stonehouse

Reception 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm – Tea, bannock and berries. Event is free.

Gala Reading featuring:
Marilyn Dumont
Daniel Heath Justice
Eden Robinson
Gregory Scofield
Anna Marie Sewell
Richard Van Camp

Friday, March 21 from 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm in Humanities Centre L-1 (111th Street and Saskatchewan Drive)
Giveaways. Books for sale. Free Admission

You find this information and links to campus maps here

What happens when your son tells you he’s really a girl? Inside the families embracing the new world of gender variance

Some medical professionals see gender variance as a natural characteristic of human diversity, similar to sexual preference, that should be accepted and even celebrated. An article in Macleans (Jan 6, 2014) explores the lives of supportive families and their trans and gender variant children..

The Public Health Agency of Canada published comprehensive recommendations in 2010 for schools to support gender-variant students and several provincial governments have added “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination. The tides may be turning but the need for education is high. The negative judgement of trans individuals suggests there is a 17% higher risk for suicide and even higher risks for being bullied by others.

The Macleans article also has a short video embedded within and pictures throughout, providing a glimpse into the daily lives of trans and gender-variant children and their families. This is an excellent introduction and movement towards educating the public and advancing the needs of trans youth – which is a natural characteristic of human variation.

You can read the article here: http://www2.macleans.ca/2014/01/13/what-happens-when-your-son-tells-you-hes-really-a-girl/

 

In the United States the National Gay and Lesbian Task Forces and the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted a survey of 6,450 trans and gender non-conforming individuals from all 50 states. This study was the first of its kind and provides us with a clear picture of what needs to change in order to stop the injustice in their lives..

Discrimination against trans and gender variant individuals provides critical data for policymakers, community activists and legal advocates to confront the appalling realities. Respondents experience higher levels of poverty and a staggering 45% of those survey reported attempting suicide. Harassment and discrimination in education was reported at alarmingly high rates and include physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%). Harassment was so severe that it led to almost 15% to leave school in K-12 settings or in higher education..

Abuse by Police, discrimination in health care and public accommodations, employment discrimination and economic insecurity, as well as housing discrimination, barriers to receiving updated documents (identification and personal records). The 6,450 individuals all reported that family acceptance was of great importance, although the majority reported experiencing family rejection. Despite all of the harassment, mistreatment, discrimination and violence faced by trans individuals the study demonstrates their determination, resourcefulness and perseverance. This report is a call to action for all of us, especially for those who pass laws and write policies. Inaction is a form of violence that will negatively affect trans and gender variant people. Take up the call for human rights for transgender, transsexual, trans, and gender variant people and confront the patterns of abuse and injustice. Let’s learn (and teach) the values of human variation to our children, to each other and let’s learn more ourselves!.

You can access the full report titled “Injustice at every Turn” here: http://www.TheTaskForce.org or here: wwww.TransEquality.org. You can also get more information about the survey at: http://www.EndTransDiscrimination.org