As the Spanish Parliament debates a bill to scrap forced sterilisation of women and girls with disability, Euronews spoke to a survivor.
Cristina Paredero was 18 when she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.
The diagnosis came as a relief to the young woman, who had been struggling for years to pinpoint the causes of her difficulties. But it was a shock to her parents, who misunderstood its meaning.
From then on, they stopped trusting their daughter's ability to fend for herself and decided it was best she underwent a sterilisation process.
Under the current Spanish penal code, people declared "disabled" by a doctor can be sterilised against their will.
In Cristina's case, she authorised the process but felt the pressure exerted by her family.
Cristina's voice, cheerful and carefree, contrasts with the burden she has been bearing for many years.
Cristina, who is now 26, studies journalism and has taken a few minutes to tell her story to Euronews.
“My parents always saw my Asperger as a disease and not as a different capacity,” she said.
“They kept telling me that it would be irresponsible to have sex because I could get pregnant; that I was not going to be able to take on the responsibility of being a mother; that, as I was Asperger, my children would also be born Asperger; and this insistence fixed in my mind the idea that I was not capable of having children.”
Cristina, therefore, decided to undergo tubal ligation.
The doctors told her everything would go smoothly.
"This is not going to hurt," she recalls hearing. She says that was practically the only thing the practitioners explained about the procedure.
The doctors themselves encouraged the young woman to move forward with the decision, she told Euronews.
It wasn't until years later, after speaking to psychologists and organisations that defend the rights of disabled people, that she realised she was perfectly capable of being a mother.
“As I grew up, I discovered the professionals I spoke with had a completely different opinion and I realised that I had been manipulated for my parents' own benefit and peace of mind, without taking my own interest into account.”
Cristina's case is far from isolated. Many more women with disabilities suffer what Sara Giménez, an MP for Ciudadanos' centre-right party calls "subliminal discrimination".
“There is a discriminatory attitude towards disabled women. They are led to believe that they will not be good caregivers. Society predisposes them to think that they will not be able to be mothers, instead of conveying that it is their right and that taking into account each case, they will be provided with the necessary resources. The system works in the opposite way,” the MP told Euronews in a statement.
The lawmaker also sees a problem in the current criminal code, which decriminalises forced sterilisation of persons with disabilities through a judicial authorisation.
More specifically, this article establishes that the sterilisation process is not punishable “as long as it is agreed by a judicial body, in the case of people who are permanently incapable of giving consent.” And under exceptional cases in which there is a “serious conflict of protected legal rights.”
This last point refers, for instance, to potential conflicts between a person's life and having or not having the child.
"In practice, it means that if a guardian requests the sterilisation of a disabled person to the judge, and the judge authorises it, the process continues even against the will of the person," said Inés de Araoz, legal advisor of Full Inclusion, a charity fighting for the rights of disabled people.
The expert says that forced sterilisation can occur under two different scenarios.
Under the first scenario, the patient is not informed of what is going on. She can be told, for instance, that a hernia will be removed and sterilised without her knowledge.
Under the second scenario, the person knows that she is going to be sterilised, refuses, but the procedure still takes place.
De Araoz says there are often misunderstandings about what 'exceptional circumstances' mean under the law. “I once dealt with the case of a person with an intellectual disability who was going to a summer camp and her family wanted to sterilise her because there were going to be boys as well.”
The end of an era?
Critics say the article conflicts with the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Spain ratified in 2008.
“In its article 23, the treaty (...) says that there should be no discrimination to start a family, get married, or the possibility of choosing freely if they want to have children. And that they shall be provided, through family planning, with the necessary means to be able to exercise these rights, ”said Giménez.
“Rather than sterilisation, what people need is that we work to empower them, make them understand what it means to be a mother or father and give them tools to perform the task,” the legal expert of Plena Inclusión told Euronews.
Several human rights groups have criticised Spain for not following European and international standards.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch slammed the southern European country for allowing the practice to continue.
Ciudadanos recently introduced a bill before the Senate and in Congress aiming to scrap forced sterilisation of people with disabilities from the criminal code.
Cristina Paredero will celebrate the move: "People have to see that we are not different from them."