As of April 2019, over 100 Indigenous women from across Canada have come forward to say that they were forced or coerced to undergo a sterilization procedure. Of these women, most had not been offered other forms of birth control and were only given inadequate information about sterilization. Some of these women recall feeling pressured, if not threatened, by health care providers to consent to a sterilization procedure — without fully understanding the procedure’s risks or permanency. In some cases, sterilization procedures were conducted despite the women expressly refusing to provide consent and/or sign a consent form.
In response to the forced or coerced sterilization of Indigenous women, advocates, experts, and leaders have since called for systemic, sweeping changes to the health care system. Their recommendations include making changes to accountability standards and to legislation and policy; providing education and training on cultural safety, informed consent, and anti-racism to health care providers; and offering Indigenous-specific services and supports, including education on patient rights and responsibilities and informed consent.
With funding from the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Indigenous Services Canada, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) was able to hold engagement sessions with Indigenous women to explore sexual and reproductive health needs and priorities. In these sessions, participants highlighted a gap in sexual health education and a need to empower and raise awareness among Indigenous women on their rights within the health care system; their understanding of their options when it comes to sexual and reproductive health; and the need for information on what to do when those rights are abused. The participants stressed there is a lack of trust between Indigenous community members and mainstream health services, which leads to hesitancy on the part of Indigenous community members to use these services — and, ultimately, to poorer health outcomes.