Registered sterilizations in the central-west of Brazil, the country’s
new agriculture frontier, reach
59 percent of women of
child-bearing age. Many such surgical interventions are
the poorest areas of Brazil, politicians frequently
offer women free sterilizations in exchange for a vote.
Four of every ten Brazilian women are surgically sterilized during their childbearing years. These are the statistics
used by specialists who declare that this culture was disseminated in the 1960’s when women’s bodies became a political
This Brazilian phenomenon, unique in the world, is due to a culture of tube-cutting (tubal ligation) as the preferred
method of avoiding conception, including among young women, said physician Dr. Antonio Carlos Rodrigues da Cunha, who
studies the subject at the University of Brasília.
He states that in Italy sterilizations among women of childbearing age do not reach even 1 percent. In 1996, the
BEMFAM (Sociedade Civil Bem-Estar FamiliarCivil Society for Family Welfare) made a broad study of women between the
ages of 15 and 49 and determined that among those that sought to avoid pregnancy, 52 percent chose sterilization.
About 80 percent of Brazilian women of childbearing age use contraceptive methods, and almost always the
methods are either hormonal (pills or injections) or surgery, in almost equal proportions, according to Cunha, who emphasizes
the need to diversify alternatives and stimulate reversible forms.
In studies in the central-west of Brazil, the new agriculture frontier of the country, registered sterilizations reach 59
percent of these women, and many such surgical interventions are clandestine, i.e., not registered. In the poorest areas of
Brazil, politicians frequently offer women free sterilizations as a means of buying their votes.
Often the sterilization option is chosen because of lack of information about other contraceptive means. This results
in a large proportion of regrets among women who attempt to reverse the tube cutting. Surgery to reverse tubal ligation has
only a 50 percent success rate.
The sterilization culture was created beginning in the 60’s when women’s bodies became the field of political
disputes, said Solange Rocha, coordinator of projects for SOS Corpo (SOS Body),a feminist non-governmental organization in Recife.
She remembers that, at that time, the U.S.A. promoted Latin American birth control based on the idea that this
would avoid new revolutions like that in Cuba, while at the same time the Brazilian military dictatorship wanted for national
security reasons more people to populate the country’s immense territory.
In Brazil, sterilization shows a marked disequilibrium between the genders. Fewer than 3 percent of men have
vasectomies. In the U.S. their proportion reaches 12 percent, about half of the proportion of sterilized women.
SOF (Sempreviva Organização Feminista), a non-governmental women’s organization, studied the issue of
female sterilization in Brazil and found that in the states of Maranhão and Goiás the incidence of tubal ligations was as high as
71 percent of child-bearing women. SOF found that the practice of female sterilization is higher among poor, non-white
women, a number of whom were sterilized after having a caesarian birth in a public hospital or clinic. In the recent past, many
women had to "prove" that they were sterilized in order to be employed in certain jobs (an illegal practice)
The high incidence of caesarian births in Brazil is also documented. Brazil is the world champion for caesarian
births even though it is known that a caesarian procedure greatly increases the risks to the life of mother and baby.
According to a study in Osasco and Mauá, two municipalities in the Greater São Paulo area, 88 percent of tubal
ligations were performed during or directly after a woman gave birth and for every 100 births, 77 were caesarian. (Osis, Berquó
study, 1993). This study also found that arrangements for tubal ligation usually occur with doctors during the prenatal period,
even though Brazil’s Penal Code states that it is a crime " to provoke corporal lesions that include the loss of function of an
organ" and the Brazilian Ethical Code of Medicine states that sterilization can only be realized in exceptional cases, when there
is a medical need, and only with the consent of two doctors.
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