Why is sterilisation still being forced on transgender people?

Compensation demanded in Sweden.

A group of Swedish transgender people are demanding 42.6m kronor (approximately £4.8m) from the state for having been forced to be sterilised before undergoing gender reassignment surgery.

The individuals, part of the estimated 865 who were told to accept the procedure in order to have their gender recognized in law, also want an official apology from the government.

According to the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Rights (RFSL), around 500 people were coerced into sterilisation between 1972 and 2012.

Speaking to AFP, RFSL leader Ulrika Westerlund said: "our starting point is to ask for 300,000 kronor per person. This amount is based on both the level of compensation for victims of forced sterilisation in Sweden and on the level determined by the European Court of Justice in similar cases."

The law finally changed in January this year following widespread outrage at the little known practice, and after the Stockholm administrative court of appeal ruled in December that it was unconstitutional.

Another report from the Council of Europe, created for the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly, called the practice a "major abuse of human rights",  and stated that it had to stop.

While this could be seen as a welcome change to an outdated and unique situation, reality is far more depressing. The recent events in Sweden simply mean that it has joined the incredibly small minority of EU countries who do not demand that transgender people are sterilised, along with the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal. Hungary does not demand it either, though it can be argued that the country tends to try and avoid the problem completely.

The issue was first raised on the EU level in 2010, when member states where told that they should review their policies, but sadly, the reports that followed indicated that most countries were very eager to ignore the issue.

Heavy criticisms also came from a report published by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, who called for countries to “outlaw forced or coerced sterilization in all circumstances” in February 2013. Once again, this did not lead to any reforms, or even promises of future changes.

One of the possible explanations behind this incredible unwillingness to abolish such a horrific and backwards practice would be the complete unawareness of the public on the subject. This was easily proved with the Swedish case, when a petition against forced sterilization posted online by AllOut easily reached nearly 80,000 signatures.

The obvious question to ask then, would be: why stop at Sweden? If this reform can be triggered relatively easily by informing people of what is happening, why is there such a deafening silence around the issue?

While LGBT organisations campaigning for equal marriage should be applauded, it would also be important to remember that there are a lot of pressing issues that need to be talked about, sooner rather than later.

Swedish transgender people are demanding 42.6m krona compensation. Photograph: Getty Images

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.