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Abstract

Scholars have provided compelling evidence of the positive impact global guidelines for human rights have had on the promotion of gender equity and citizenship rights in modernizing nations across the globe. This essay seeks to approach these successes with caution. It questions whether all citizens of a nation are equally empowered by current paradigms of progress and modernization; and it shows that changing constructions of class, ethnicity, and gender have often compromised the equalization of citizenship rights. Coercive sterilization campaigns in the United States and in Peru provide a useful lens to evaluate the diverse effects public policies can have on different populations of a nation. These campaigns took place in different national settings and time periods, and amidst radically disparate global understandings of human and women’s rights. When legislators in the United States implemented sterilization campaigns, a universal definition of reproductive rights and bodily integrity was nonexistent. When women were sterilized in Peru, international norms, endorsed by the United Nations, defined reproductive rights as a central feature of women’s human rights, and Peru signed and ratified this UN resolution. Nonetheless, both campaigns found ways to target designated ‘unwanted populations’, and disproportionally sterilized women. Acknowledging women’s agency and the diversity of women’s experiences, I recognize that some women managed to use the campaigns to increase their reproductive choices. But many others became victims of aggressive measures to control their sexuality and reproduction, even after national political leaders claimed to accept global norms of women’s reproductive rights.