Vol 8 No 1 (2016)

“Shut Up… and Push!” - Obstetrical Violence, Dignified Health Care and the Intersection with Human Rights

Shannon Hennig
Athabasca University
Published March 21, 2016


Violence against women is a globally pervasive issue that can take on multiple forms affecting women regardless of age, class, race/ethnicity, or ability. Within a patriarchal paradigm the subjugation of women is consistent across cultures and is reflected in social structures, including health care facilities and systems. Obstetrical violence is understood to be actions of abuse or disrespect experienced by a women during the prenatal and postnatal periods and is especially prevalent during labour and delivery. During a time of intense vulnerability, women can be subjected to verbal and physical abuse, lack of respect, acts of coercion, gross violations of privacy and the withholding of pain medication, often occurring at the hands of their care providers and these acts can be paralleled with similar experiences of women who have been abused by domestic partners. These practices can then inform a woman’s decision making related to future access to health care services and play a role in the development of sociocultural understandings of health care provision. Pregnancy and birthing continue to be one of the leading causes of death amongst women of childbearing age and governments have worked to increase women’s access to appropriate prenatal and birth related service provision, including emergency obstetrical care which can be provided in a health care facility with skilled birth attendants in place. The application of a human rights framework to women’s sexual and reproductive health shows promise as an effective tool to address the underlying structural inequalities that lead to acts of violence and pose a threat to women’s health. Keywords: women’s health, violence against women, obstetrical violence, human rights