Ending the violence: Prioritize respectful treatment for childbearing women in India

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Respect and dignity in childbirth is a human right. Tragically, women around the world all too often endure violations of these rights, including verbal and physical abuse, non-consensual or non-confidential care, discrimination, abandonment, denial of care or detention in facilities.

India is no exception.

While systematic research is urgently required to document the rates and nature of disrespect and abuse in childbirth in India, anecdotal accounts abound and several qualitative studies have documented horrible abuse at health centers. Fear of poor quality care also keeps many women from seeking medical help. A study of slum-dwelling women in Delhi found that over 50% chose to give birth at home, citing fear of facilities as their primary reason.

The White Ribbon Alliance recently released a statement on the issue, endorsed by over 80 civil society and health organizations, which identified seven universal rights of childbearing women, and grounded them in international, multinational and national standards. 

The Universal Rights of Childbearing Women (White Ribbon Alliance 2015)

The Universal Rights of Childbearing Women (White Ribbon Alliance 2015)

In India, there are currently no programs or policies in place to ensure dignity, privacy and respect in childbirth, and discussion of these issues is largely absent from the country’s maternity care guidelines.

It’s time for the Government of India to make this human rights issue a focus. It’s time for the Government of India to ratify the White Ribbon Alliance’s charter of universal rights of childbearing women.

This vital first action will set in motion research, monitoring, standards-development and training to make respectful maternity care a reality for all women in India.

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3 Responses to “Ending the violence: Prioritize respectful treatment for childbearing women in India”

  1. jmcunningham3388 Says:

    What struck me most about the tragedy of this maternal abuse was that by abusing a pregnant woman, you also abuse her unborn child. That is infliction of harm to two vulnerable individuals. I agree that imploring the Government of India to ratify the White Ribbon Campaign’s charter of universal rights of childbearing women, and to include these rights in the Ministry of Health’s maternal care guidelines, would be a good first step in bringing attention to this issue. However, perhaps it would also be useful to bring the campaign directly to the medical schools and other health practitioner training centers in India to establish an understanding among students of these rights before they become full-fledged providers. This may help initiate change in the culture of maternal care.

  2. kerryescott Says:

    Thank you for commenting! You make a very good point—government support and public policy change are ideal, but there is no need to wait for this, especially since it may take a long time. It makes a lot of sense to approach medical and nursing schools, and other health worker education training centres, which can be done immediately, without waiting for the government to take up the issue.

    In fact, I’m hoping to work in this area in the future. Specifically, I would like to focus on building the evidence-base on intervention models to initiate cultural change in maternity wards. There is almost nothing published about interventions to address disrespect and abuse, so I hope to get involved in learning what types of programs work and why. Thanks again for reading commenting.

  3. jmcunningham3388 Says:

    That’s great! This was an issue I had never heard about, but certainly something that needs to be addressed. Maternity ward “culture change” seems to be an essential component to addressing the issue. It is amazing how “corporate culture” or “organizational culture” can really have an impact upon employee behaviors across many types of organizations. Best of luck on your work, and I hope that disrespect and abuse in maternity wards sees significant decreases in short order.

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