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Jordan weighs sterilization of disabled women

In contrast to the US, Jordan prohibits the practice but advocates are vocal.

Still, many activists charge that in the Arab world the practice mainly revolves around the concern that a disabled woman could leave the house unattended, get raped and become pregnant. This is also a concern for families in the U.S. In Jordan, rape of disabled women is extremely rare, but the concern still looms large for many families in a country where such an incident could lead to an honor killing, said Asma Khader, secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Families “thought that this is a way to prevent these types of sexual crimes,” said Khader. “But the fact is that rape can still happen, and [this procedure] can only prevent pregnancy. ... It is a practice that will make sexual crimes even easier.”

Before Shraideh or his colleagues perform a hysterectomy on a mentally handicapped woman, he said they perform a rigorous evaluation of the patient, which includes physical and psychological tests, to ensure that her condition is severe enough to merit the surgery. Shraideh, who usually deals with two to three such cases a year, said he has never performed the operation for a family who later regretted it.

“It is really humane to give them a hysterectomy in order to keep their dignity in tact,” said Shraideh.

Still, doctors like Tahtamouni who oppose to the surgery say that with time these disabled women can be taught how to deal with their periods and families should be more concerned about protecting their daughters from sexual assault, rather than just preventing pregnancy.

A recent campaign by the Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities sought to educate families with potential candidates for the surgery about the risks of the procedure.

While there was no one case in particular that spurred the council to action, the group’s representative, Lara Yassen, said the group grew concerned when it heard about several families deciding to carry out the procedure. Many of the families who attended the workshop did not realize a hysterectomy is an invasive surgery that can lead to major complications.

“We told families that it’s not permitted in any way by Shariah law [Islamic law] or from a human rights perspective,” said Yassen, who added that the practice is also widely condemned by Christian scholars.