How to improve your numbers

The BBC does some investigating in Uzbekistan. It finds a nasty habit of sterilizing women without their knowledge or consent.

Sterilisation is not, officially, the law in Uzbekistan.

But evidence gathered by the BBC suggests that the Uzbek authorities have run a programme over the last two years to sterilise women across the country, often without their knowledge.

Foreign journalists are not welcome in Uzbekistan, and in late February of this year the authorities deported me from the country. I met Adolat and many other Uzbek women in the relative safety of neighbouring Kazakhstan. I also gathered testimony by telephone and email, and in recordings brought out of the country by courier.

None of the women wanted to give their real names but they come from different parts of Uzbekistan and their stories are consistent with those of doctors and medical professionals inside the country.

“Every year we are presented with a plan. Every doctor is told how many women we are expected to give contraception to; how many women are to be sterilised,” says a gynaecologist from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

One suggested reason is flabbergasting – it’s a way to improve the maternal/infant mortality stats.

Several doctors and medical professionals said forced sterilisation is not only a means of population control but also a bizarre short-cut to lowering maternal and infant mortality rates.

“It’s a simple formula – less women give birth, less of them die,” said one surgeon.

The result is that this helps the country to improve its ranking in international league tables for maternal and infant mortality.

“Uzbekistan seems to be obsessed with numbers and international rankings,” says Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“I think it’s typical of dictatorships that need to construct a narrative built on something other than the truth.”

And, of course, it’s only women, so…


  1. Josh Slocum says

    Consider obligatory flabbers gasted.

    But. . but. . that doesn’t even make any sense! Surely the mortality rates are reported per-capita, not as an absolute number. Fewer women giving birth won’t change the proportion of infant deaths among the set that is still birthing.

    I just can’t even. . .

  2. says

    I wonder if anyone has explained that to them. Seriously.

    It’s truly weird, because there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for it – the claims about overpopulation are apparently just smoke. Just some kind of weird housekeeping urge? Random control freakery?

  3. julian says

    I’ve heard of cooking the books but, Jesus, this is another level. What happened to good ol’ dishonesty?

    Is there any recourse for these women or anything anyone can do?

  4. says

    If they are preferentially targeting women who have been identified as likely to have higher-risk pregnancies, the abhorrent program actually might reduce the per-capita rate of maternal and infant mortality.

    It wouldn’t do a thing for the rate of maternal/infant mortality that’s attributable to crap healthcare for women and children, though.

  5. Josh Slocum says

    If indeed this is about numbers it’s a devastating example of how deep misogyny goes. Leaving aside human decency, it doesn’t even make sense from an economic perspective. The cost of doing surgery compared to making condoms and the pill widely available? The certainty of major scandal at some point when this is widely discovered?

  6. 'Tis Himself says

    Islam Karimov, the Führer President of Uzbekistan, is an authoritarian dictator intent on building a cult of personality. That he would order women sterilized to bring down morbidity rates is not surprising.

  7. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I don’t understand why people are shocked. In Oregon forced sterilization was practiced into the 80s. You really think that 30 years or so after openly acknowledged forced sterilization ends in the united states there couldn’t possibly be sterilization coercion going on…anywhere in the world? Or even openly forced sterilization…anywhere in the world?

    I’m horrified, but I’m far, far from shocked.

  8. ash says

    The politcos who DO know what words and concepts mean rightfully assume that the gen-pub do NOT.

  9. KG says

    The whole story is very bizarre – first of all, they are mixing hysterectomies and sterilizations which are different procedures even in middle Asian medicine. The problem is actually much more fundamental: in ‘feudal’ type societies, people are not informed about their surgery in general, and their consent is not asked for in general. A woman who’s had a totally legitimate hysterectomy because of a complication may not be told about it if she doesn’t explicitly ask ‘if she can have more children’. – Most of these people have probably not received any information about surgery, even if it was necessary.
    It will be quite hard to get any hard data apart from the anecdotal evidence from people who are required to bear more children (and would never dare not to want to).

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