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Violence and mistreatment of women in childbirth are human rights violations that must end
by Dubravka Simonovic
Special Rapporteur on violence against women
Oct. 2019
Mistreatment and violence against women during childbirth are widespread and systematic human rights violations that continue to blight the lives of women across the globe and must be stopped, says UN rights expert Dubravka Simonovic.
“Women giving birth have the right to receive dignified and respectful care free from violence and mistreatment, yet the reality of millions worldwide who have finally spoken up is quite the opposite,” said Simonovic, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, presenting a report to the UN General Assembly.
“Women are suffering violations ranging from verbal abuse, sexist behaviour and profound humiliation, to physical violence such as unnecessary, compulsory and routine medical procedures carried out without full and informed consent.
“Some undergo invasive surgical treatments without anesthesia, including unnecessary episiotomies, surgical removal of the placenta and suturing after birth. They may also suffer violations of privacy and physical abuse.”
“Women are often silenced because of fears of taboo, shame and the belief that childbirth is an event that requires suffering on their part.
“These are not sporadic events but part of a continuum of the gender-based violence that occur in the wider context of structural inequality, discrimination and patriarchy, and this widespread, systematic violence and mistreatment of women in childbirth must end.”
Since 2015, new social movements demanding women’s rights in reproductive health services and during childbirth have arisen in several countries and have broken taboos and shed light on the patterns of mistreatment and violence that women suffer, showing that mistreatment and violence during childbirth are ingrained in health systems all around the world.
“The root causes of these forms of mistreatment and violence, including failing health systems, the existing power dynamics within the provider-patient relationship, as well as discriminatory laws and practice must not be allowed to impact the health and wellbeing of women during childbirth and must be urgently addressed,” Simonovic said.
“States are responsible for addressing violations by health institutions, whether committed by public sector employees or by private contractors working on behalf of the State. States also have an obligation to uphold their human rights obligations, including those under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which calls on them to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay, a policy of eliminating discrimination and gender-based violence against women, including in the field of health,” the Special Rapporteur said.
* Access the study via the link below.
Oct. 2019
Alarming number of women mistreated during childbirth, new UN health agency figures show. (UN News)
More than a third of women surveyed across four lower-income countries, reported being mistreated during childbirth, a new study led by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed.
The study, published in The Lancet - an influential peer-reviewed science journal - was carried out in Ghana, Guinea, Myanmar and Nigeria, and found that 42 percent of the 2,016 women observed had experienced physical or verbal abuse, stigma or discrimination during labour and childbirth.
According to WHO, quality support, particularly from midwives for women in labour, can make the difference between life and death. Midwifery has been shown to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and stillbirth rates, by over 80 per cent, and reduces pre-term labour and birth by 24 per cent. Yet, more than 800 women still die every day during the process.
Younger, less-educated women were found to be most vulnerable to mistreatment, in the form of stigmatization, discrimination, undergoing medical procedures without consent; the use of force in procedures; or abandonment or neglect by health workers.
Some 14 percent of women experienced physical abuse in the form of being slapped, hit or punched, while others experienced non-consensual caesarean sections, and episiotiomies (surgical cuts to the vagina during childbirth) and vaginal examinations.
Interviews were also conducted with 2,672 women after giving birth, which indicated similar levels of mistreatment.
# In a campaign by the White Ribbon Alliance on what women want worldwide, the top demand from more than 1 million women from 114 countries was respectful and dignified health care. However, it is clear from these results that many women are not getting such care:

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The lack of understanding of domestic violence
by Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Guardian News, agencies
4 Sep. 2019
It was supposed to be a showcase of the French government’s new crackdown on domestic violence.
But instead, when the French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited the national domestic violence hotline and listened in to the morning’s calls, he heard in real time how a local police officer was refusing to help a woman in danger.
The French gendarmerie, or military police, on Wednesday opened an investigation into “failings” over the incident, which the president said highlighted the lack of understanding of domestic violence.
After at least 100 women in France were killed this year by current or former partners, Macron made a quiet visit to a domestic violence hotline centre in Paris on Tuesday.
Wearing headphones, the president sat silently listening in to calls being taken by an experienced hotline operator.
A distressed 57-year-old woman called in saying her violent husband had threatened to kill her after years of escalating abuse at home and that she had to leave. She was at the local police station. She said she had filed a police complaint but, fearing her husband would murder her, she had asked the police to accompany her home to safely retrieve her possessions before leaving. But the police refused.
“You’re in the police station? You’re in danger. Your husband is at home. The police can accompany you,” the operator assured the caller.
The woman said that the police were refusing to do so. Macron looked visibly angered and shook his head, but remained silent.
“They have to help a person in danger,” the operator insisted and asked to speak to the police officer.
In a call that lasted 15 minutes, the operator attempted in vain to persuade the gendarme to help, but the officer insisted it wasn’t his place to intervene. Unaware that the president was listening in, the officer said – wrongly – that he would need a judicial order to accompany the woman.
Macron silently shook his head and wrote a note on a piece of paper, handing it to the operator.
“It’s the gendarme’s job to protect her when there is a clear risk,” with or without any extra judicial permission, the note said.
The hotline operator continued to press the officer, at one point saying: “This woman is under threat of death, are you waiting until she’s actually killed?” But the officer refused to act.
After the call, an exasperated Macron asked: “Does that happen often?”
The operator, who had been working on the hotline for over 20 years, said: “Oh yes, more and more frequently.”
Caroline de Haas, a feminist campaigner, said the incident showed the dangerous lack of training among state professionals: “I hope that Emmanuel Macron, now he has been confronted with the daily reality for women experiencing domestic violence, will take initiatives to improve things on the ground. He has said it himself – this is a problem with training, professionals are not properly trained in how to detect domestic violence or how to respond to women who are victims of it.”
She said Macron did not need to change laws or make decrees, but he must increase funding.
Sep. 2019
South African women suffering ''epidemic'' of violence, activists warn. (Reuters)
Activists have warned of an “epidemic” of violence against women in South Africa after a spate of killings and rapes sparked outrage in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates.
A female boxing champion was gunned down on Friday by a man allegedly serving as a police officer and another man was charged on Monday with attacking a Cape Town university student in a post office and raping and murdering her.
According to government statistics, more than 1,500 people are murdered every month in South Africa, a nation with a history of violence and profound inequality.
But the brazen attacks have shocked even those accustomed to daily incidents of violence.
“These murders are proof that the battleground is no longer nighttime and dodgy spaces ... even public spaces like the post office are no longer safe,” said Given Sigauqwe from rights groups Sonke Gender Justice calling the violence an “epidemic”.
“We need the criminal justice system to be more accountable and the perpetrators of these violent crimes to face the full might of the law,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thousands of South Africans on social media used the hashtag #AmINextProtest to call for criminal justice reform. More than 400,000 signed a petition demanding the death penalty - abolished in 1995 - be reinstated for crimes against women.
Some pointed to the sad irony of the killing of boxer Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels which happened at the end of August, celebrated as Women’s Month in the country.
At least 3,000 women in South Africa were murdered in 2018 - or one every three hours - which is more than five times higher than the global average, according to the World Health Organization.
Authorities have condemned the killings and the South African government said on its Twitter account on Tuesday that women “should not allow themselves to become victims”.
The post was deleted after being criticized for blaming victims. “Enough of this nonsense making men’s crimes a woman’s responsibility,” tweeted South African Tessa Moore.
Hundreds of female students tried to storm a World Economic Forum conference in Cape Town to highlight South Africa’s “epidemic” of violence against women, but were pushed back by riot police with stun grenades and water cannon. The recent spate of murders of women has prompted a day of action in schools and campuses across the country.

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