International human rights and the mistreatment of women during childbirth

November 21, 2016

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Even though there has been recent attention to the role that human rights experts can play in developing and applying human rights standards in the context of maternal mortality and morbidity, the issue of mistreatment during facility-based childbirth remains relatively inexplored. A recent systematic review of the scientific literature documented an extensive range of mistreatment to which women are subjected during childbirth. 

In an article in the Health and Human Rights Journal, the authors have listed a long list of these abuses, and have analysed which relevant human rights are being violated. Some examples of these violations are:

  • Use of force, e.g., being beaten, slapped, kicked, and pinched during delivery

  • Being physically restrained to the bed or gagged during delivery

  • Sexual abuse or rape

  • The use of harsh or rude language

  • Threats and blaming

  • Various forms of discrimination

  • Lack of informed consent and confidentiality

  • Neglect and abandonment

  • Ineffective communication

  • Lack of supportive care

In light of these serious violations, the authors argue that there should be two areas for action:

“First, there is a call for continued human rights monitoring and documentation to deepen our understandings of the nature of violations, their causes and effects, and the development of more comprehensive human rights standards to guide remedy and redress measures. […] Second, there is a need to develop innovative human rights accountability measures to enforce standards both for individual remedy and redress for victims of mistreatment, but also for constructive accountability within health systems to prevent future violations. These are measures that can effectively and sustainably transform health systems to shape and change the experience of service provision and access. This includes measures taken to ensure that hospital environments and staff are sufficiently trained and empowered to meet women’s emotional, physical, and medical needs and guarantee that human rights are respected.” 

Access International Human Rights and the Mistreatment of Women during Childbirth. Health and Human Rights Journal, 14 November 2016