Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Jane Anderson

Second Advisor

Thomas Leatherman

Third Advisor

Laura Briggs

Fourth Advisor

Jacqueline Urla

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Studies


How do peasant and indigenous women who have experienced reproductive violence describe the harm of forced sterilization? What happens when the language of human and reproductive rights is used to make this form of abuse visible and legible? How do feminists and the judiciary understand this form of abuse? This dissertation explores these questions by looking at the aftermath of the sterilization abuses that occur between 1996 and 2001 during the implementation of the Reproductive Health and Family Planning Program 1996-2000 (RHFPP). I analyze the dissonances that emerge from the disputes around visibility and justice carried forward by feminists, grassroots women’s organizations, and the Peruvian judiciary. I ponder the incongruities involved in making these cases simultaneously visible through performance art, legible as reproductive rights violation, and delayed within the legal system.

I conducted multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Lima, Cuzco, and Cajamarca for sixteen months, using methods such as participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and archival research. I argue that the human and reproductive rights framework is at the core of these dissonances. As a framework that provides the language to denounce the abuse, it also shapes the contours of what is possible to say about the harms caused by forced sterilization: a violation of women’s bodily autonomy and infertility as the main harm. The rights discourse, however, cannot accommodate the ontological differences of indigenous and peasant women. I argue that the dissonances reveal forms of legal and experiential incommensurability and hierarchies of discourse shaped by colonial, racialized, and gendered differences that cannot be accounted for within the existing legal frameworks. Feminists and the judiciary uphold this framework and legitimize its dominance. Indigenous and peasant women explain that abusive sterilizations cause loss of their physical strength, ‘alteraciones’, and convey the abuse using animal analogies, but are treated as ‘folk’ beliefs. When the judiciary takes on the task of investigating these abuses, the dissonance becomes even more pronounced, as the rights discourse does not recognize that the violation of indigenous and peasant women’s reproductive rights were the result of a gendered, racialized, and class structure.