REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH MATTERS (RHM) publishes its 53rd journal issue Disrespect and Abuse In Maternal Care: Addressing Key Challenges. The issue, edited jointly by Gita Sen, Bhavya Reddy, Aditi Iyer and Shirin Heidari, highlights concerns about abusive, disrespectful and neglectful treatment of women before, during and after childbirth in healthcare systems, and examines this problem through multiple lenses. The issue sheds light on the drivers of disrespect and abuse in obstetric care, offering insights into the consequences of structural violence and highlighting the devastating mistreatment of women throughout the birthing process.
Respectful maternity care is a human right. In 2014, WHO released a statement calling for the prevention and elimination of disrespect and abuse during childbirth, stating that “every woman has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including the right to dignified, respectful care during pregnancy and childbirth.” WHO also called for the mobilization of governments, programmers, researchers, advocates and communities to support respectful maternity care. In 2016, WHO published new guidelines for improving quality of care for mothers and new-borns in health facilities, which included an increased focus on respect and preservation of dignity.
The journal issue covers a range of emerging topics including: how disrespect and abuse get built into and reproduced through the organisational culture of medical institutions, the role of social activism in engendering greater accountability, the politics of identities shaping women’s experiences during childbirth, observation versus self-report in the measurement of disrespect and abuse during facility-based childbirth and litigating to ensure access to quality maternal health care for women and girls.
Disrespect and abuse in maternal care is examined in multiple regions including Brazil, India, Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya. Training, public policy, organisational culture, structural violence as well as qualitative studies of women’s observations and perspectives are examined in order to paint a nuanced picture of the drivers of disrespect and abuse in maternal care.