In 2008, “Y-Net” newspaper published a report concerning the prescription of “Depro-Provera”, a birth control injection, to Ethiopian immigrants. The report alleged that these women were prescribed the drug, without being offered safer alternatives and in some cases without explaining which injection they were given. In a report led by Hedva Eyal, the ministry of Health found that 57% of the women receiving the drug were of Ethiopian descent, well above their percentage in the general population, which is roughly 1.7%. Since their arrival in Israel, the reproduction rate of Ethiopian Jews declined by nearly 50%.
A History of “Sterilization Racism”
Depro-Provera is a drug with a problematic and often racist and colonial history. Since its inception it was planned as a drug designed for ethnic minorities. Even in early clinical trials the majority of the women participating in the studies were African American. During advanced trial phases, when doctors were allowed to prescribe the drug, researchers found clear racial disparities. Most doctors downplayed the risks of the drug and the fact it was not yet approved by the F.D.A. This usage of Depro is part of a longer historical trend of “Sterilization Racism”, where the birth rates of African-Americans and other minorities was perceived as problematic and needing control.
From Third World Colonialism To Homegrown Racism
Concern over minorities’ reproduction rates was carried by American professionals abroad as part of the USAID program. For years, directors of the USAID program viewed fertility control as a central component of international aid. While this is not untrue, it was heavily influenced by a colonial legacy in which fertility of women in developing countries was perceived as something that needs to be ‘controlled’ and modified by the Global North.
Depo-Provera Enters the Market
When Depro-Provera was available for widespread commercial use, it quickly became popular Around The global south. Between 2000 to 2005 Depro became the most popular contraceptive in Ethiopia, almost a quarter of the market. While there may be valid reasons for recommending the drug to women in developing countries, it is concerning that it is still so prevalent today when providers are fully aware of its awful side effects. The JDC provided healthcare to Jewish Ethiopians who intended to move to Israel, and prescribed Depro-Provera. Some women testified that they were coerced to take the injection, threatened with a refusal to enter Israel.
“For Contraception Where Medically Prescribed and Oral Administration Is Inapplicable”
Since the early 2000’s, there has been growing evidence that “Depro-Provera” is less safe then previously assumed. Potential and even common side effects of the drug are so severe, that the F.D.A and the Israeli Health ministry recommend using it only as a last resort. Despite that, until 2013 Depro was routinely prescribed to Ethiopian women, and the practice only stopped after pressure from lawmakers and social activists. When it came to Ethiopian women, the Israeli Health ministry did not even follow its own guidelines.
They Did Not Even Bother With A Cover Up
When asked about the practice in 2013, the minister of health simply stated that Ethiopian Women themselves wanted “Depro-Provera” since they were accustomed to the drug from Ethiopia. This claim has not been proven true. Even if that is true, and the request for the drug came from the women themselves, wasn’t it the responsibility of the doctors to warn them about it and suggest alternatives? The ministry of health itself stated the drug should not be used on healthy independent women, were they not alarmed by the number of Ethiopian women taking it routinely? This off the cuff remark by the them minister demonstrates the attitudes of the Israeli government towards the Ethiopian minority – ranging from criminal negligence to outright abuse.
The Problem Persists
Interviews done by members of Callactivit, with community organizers in the Ethiopean community of Jaffa, have discovered the practice still continues. Despite the promise of the Health ministry to end it, it seems recent immigrants from Ethiopia are still receiving Depro-Provera without being offered an alternative.
When Gender Meets Colour
This case epitomizes how two forms of oppression become entangled: racism and misogyny. The Feminist movement throught the years has continuously fought for women to have autonomy over their bodies. Despite this, far too few feminist organizations in Israel dealt/deal with the issue. Too often the achievements of Feminists are not applied to the weakest women- minorities and immigrants, They are left with their trauma alone.
Your Feminism isn’t feminism Unless it is Intersectional