Mandatory sterilization has been a requirement for transgender people in almost two dozen European countries after they change their the name or gender on a government-issued document like a driver’s license.
A human rights win:
However, these days are coming to an end. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled last week that the sterilization requirement was an institutionalized violation of human rights.
The court issued a ruling on April 6 in favor of three transgender people in France who were not allowed to change the names and genders on their birth certificates because they hadn’t not been sterilized. According to activists, this is a new legal standard which could lead to a change of laws in the 22 countries under its jurisdiction.
Executive director of Transgender Europe, Julia Ehrt, which is an advocacy group based in Berlin, issued a statement saying: “This decision ends the dark chapter of state-induced sterilization in Europe. The 22 states in which a sterilization is still mandatory will have to swiftly end this practice.”
The court ruled that the sterilization requirement was a violation of Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which reads that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”
The case was filed by three French citizens. The decision is legally binding only in France, however, the issue has already been settled by local courts in France last October. The country stroked down the sterilization requirement and adopted revised procedures for legally changing a name and gender.
However, this ruling sets a new legal standard for all 47 countries that have signed the European Convention, despite some countries not requiring sterilization in the first place, and others, like Russia and Turkey, not members of the European Union.
The European countries that require sterilization are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine, as per Transgender Europe.
An important milestone:
But activists warned that the ruling doesn’t mean that the laws in any of the above countries will immediately change and that it may take several more court cases before legal change comes to individual countries. Despite this, the ruling is seen as an important milestone.
Richard Köhler, the senior policy officer at Transgender Europe said: “The European Court of Human Rights is very much respected in Europe and we can expect that in the majority of countries where this issue comes up, this ruling will be respected as the new precedent.” He added that the first impacts of the decision could be seen during the upcoming court cases in Bulgaria and Macedonia.
Kyle Knight, a researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights division at Human Rights Watch said that sterilization procedures take many forms in the countries where it remains a requirement, some countries command the surgical removal of genitalia and reproductive organs while others vaguely call for procedures that produce “irreversible infertility.”
He added: “All of these are coercive, humiliating, and unnecessary.”
Several activists think the ruling isn’t enough. Many European countries require Transgender people to receive a mental health diagnosis or undergo medical examinations before they can legally change their gender, and the court did not find those requirements to be a violation of human rights.
In Austria in 2009 and in Germany in 2011, mandatory gender reassignment was found to be unlawful. While in Sweden in 2012 and in Norway in 2014, sterilization requirements were outlawed.
Köhler added that only a few European countries allow transgender people to legally change their gender without the interference of medical or mental health professionals, which are Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Malta.
Malta also bans conversion therapy, which is a collection of pseudo-psychiatric methods that tries to alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.