Embrace advocacy and communications strategist Nonkululeko Mbuli said obstetric violence refers to the mistreatment of women during childbirth, the violation of their reproductive health rights. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
Embrace advocacy and communications strategist Nonkululeko Mbuli said obstetric violence refers to the mistreatment of women during childbirth, the violation of their reproductive health rights. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Pervasive obstetric violence highlighted during 16 Days of Activism

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Dec 3, 2021

Share this article:

Cape Town - Sidelined in discourses around gender-based violence, local movement Embrace aims to change this by raising awareness on highly pervasive obstetric violence, during 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign.

A project incubated by the DG Murray Trust, Embrace started in December 2013 and is a social movement valuing and celebrating motherhood. It is deeply concerned about the undervaluing of mothers in South Africa.

Embrace advocacy and communications strategist Nonkululeko Mbuli said obstetric violence refers to the mistreatment of women during childbirth, the violation of their reproductive health rights and basic human rights.

“It results in physical or psychological harm during pregnancy, birth and post-birth. Obstetric violence has far-reaching, enduring implications for maternal health and early childhood development.

“These violations of sexual reproductive and women’s rights can result in trauma, post-partum depression, and physical damage to women, foetuses and newborns (neonates) which at times result in death and life-long disabilities.”

Mbuli said abuses include physical and psychological in the form of neglect, being turned away from facilities, verbal assaults, slapping, dragging women by the ear, applying pressure to the abdomen during labour, isolating and abandoning women in active labour or medically unnecessary procedures such as c-sections, administration of contraception, sterilisation, and episiotomies, to name a few.

“The eradication of the violence experienced by pregnant women who give birth at health-care facilities requires an examination of all the issues at play, including how health care is delivered and organised, and how health-care providers are trained,” Mbuli said.

Centre for Applied Legal Studies expert adviser Dr Jess Rucell said over the past 20 years, growing research has shown that the problem of especially black, low-income women being abused when they seek maternity care is systemic and has been found in most provinces.

“We want the Health Ombudsman to use his authority to investigate this gender-based violence and why district and other managers fail to prevent it,” Dr Rucell said.

Women who have experienced this form of abuse are encouraged to report it to the Health Ombudsman’s office by calling the free hotline 080 911 6472 operating weekdays from 8am-5pm and Saturday’s from 8am-1pm.

“The Health Ombudsman hotline takes complaints, ensures hospital and district levels investigate abuses, and complainants get timely follow-up,” said Dr Rucell.

Share this article: