Years of rumours that Ethiopian women were pressured into having contraceptive injections by Israeli officials have finally been confirmed. The Health Ministry has ordered immigration officials in Ethiopia and health workers in Israel to stop coercing or coaxing women into accepting the long-lasting injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera.
The directive instructed doctors "not to renew prescriptions of Depo Provera to women of Ethiopian origin or any other women who, for whatever reason, may not understand the treatment's implications." They should also ask patients why they want to take the shot, using a translator if necessary. The Ministry did not confirm or acknowledge any wrongdoing.
Ethiopians who claim to be Jews are welcome to migrate to Israel under the Law of Return, but they face discrimination and have not always integrated well into Israeli society. Births among Ethiopian women have dropped by 50% in the last decade, according to a report by the "Vacuum" investigative news program on Israeli Educational Television. "This story reeks of racism, paternalism and arrogance. It's a story to be ashamed of," journalist Gal Gabai concluded.
Ethiopian women told the journalists stories of unsubtle coercion and misinformation. "They said, 'Come, there are vaccinations, gather everyone," one of them said. "We said we wouldn't receive it. They said, 'You won't move to Israel.'" Women said that they were told that it would be hard for them to work or find accommodation of they had large families.
This is not a new problem, but the government is finally facing up to the lack of informed consent on the part of a marginalised, poorly-educated minority. In 2008, Hedva Eyal, of the feminist group Isha L'Isha, wrote a report alleging that the medical profession had failed Ethiopian migrant women.
"The paternalistic attitude towards women of Ethiopian origin and the state's concern over high rates of birth among poor and black populations drove Israeli official bodies, such as The Jewish Agency and the medical establishment, to act, allegedly for the benefit of women's health, but in fact according to the concepts and wishes of the establishment regarding the desirable way to conduct family life. As a result, and as this paper shows, women did not get crucial medical information and their right of choice regarding their bodies, families and lives was severely curtailed."
Israel did offer an apology for the abuse of these women.