Thousands of Ethiopian women in Israel are reporting receiving shots of Depo-Provera, a hormonal contraceptive, every three months in Israeli clinics without their knowledge or consent.
A documentary exposing this phenomenon was released this past December, prompting widespread shock and forcing the Israeli health ministry to investigate these claims. What the documentary revealed was that women were started on these contraceptive “jabs” while in transit camps in Ethiopia. They were not told that they were being given birth control, or what the side effects could be. This phenomenon was discovered by social workers who noticed a 50% decline in birthrates among Ethiopian immigrants during the last ten years. Once these women arrived in Israel, this treatment was continued.
Though Depo-Provera is a proven and popular form of birth control, it does have certain side effects that, while not entirely common, can be damaging. The most drastic of these effects include irregular menstrual periods and loss of bone mineral density. Approximately 50% of women stop getting their periods after using Depo-Provera for a year, and the drug has also been linked to fertility problems and osteoporosis.
Neither Israel nor Ethiopia is claiming responsibility for the contraceptive shots, but it is clear that the policy is both damaging to women’s reproductive health and violates their rights.
Sava Reuben, an Ethiopian woman who has lived in Israel since 1984, was part of the documentary crew that exposed this scandal, and interviewed women who were affected by the injections. One woman recalled that in their transit camp in Ethiopia, the new mothers were brought together and told that they would be given Depo-Provera. When they refused, they were told that without the injections their immigration to Israel would be blocked.
This practice of Depo-Provera injections is horrifying in and of itself, but what is also troubling is the fact that the women targeted are only Ethiopian. Though Israel’s ministry of health has denied all suggestions that the injections are part of a policy to control the growth of the Ethiopian community, Reuben finds this hard to believe. She states that women are being taken advantage of because they are new to the country and don’t understand the language.
Israel’s health ministry is now investigating this issue, led by Yaakov Litzman, the Deputy Minister of Health, who has previously denied this practice.