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Gender-based violence in maternity wards
Latinamerica Press
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Women in labor experience abuse, neglect, and humiliation in public hospitals.

Pregnant women gave birth steps away from a hospital because they were turned away. Pregnant indigenous women endured discrimination and humiliating and offensive comments during childbirth. These are examples of the abuses healthcare workers inflict on women in Mexico’s public hospitals.
Media reports show that from October to February, five women in the southern state of Oaxaca gave birth just outside hospitals because doctors turned them away, claiming their deliveries weren’t imminent. The most recent case was Feb. 6, in the Oaxacan port of Salina Cruz, when a 16-year-old girl in labor pain and accompanied by her mother, arrived at Clínica 2, part of the Mexican Social Security Institute. For seven hours they asked to be admitted, only to receive the response that there was still time before the baby’s birth and that she should come back later. She ultimately gave birth in the hospital parking lot, with help only from her mother.

Social scientist Roberto Castro Pérez, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Regional Center of Multidisciplinary Research, has investigated these cases, in a study that earned him the university’s 7th Ibero-American Prize for Social Sciences.

The paper, “Genesis and practice of the authoritarian medical habitus: The violation of women’s rights in Mexican health institutions,” is based on more than 200 testimonies, observations in labor and delivery rooms, interviews and focus groups with doctors, as well as recommendations from the official National Commission on Human Rights regarding these types of cases.

Professional bias
Receiving the award on Jan. 22, Castro stated, “The abuses are not exclusively on the part of doctors, but rather they stem from the training of health professionals, who are presented with the idea that (they) are better than (their) patients. In the medical field, there exists a hierarchy similar to that in the Army or the Church.”

To that same end, a study in mid-2012 by the state’s National Institute of Public Health showed that of the 512 women interviewed, 11 percent felt neglected at some point by a health professional. The most common perpetrators were nurses (40 percent), female doctors (30 percent) and male doctors (23 percent).

Raffaela Schiavon, technical secretary of the Committee for the Promotion of Safe Motherhood in Mexico — which comprises government agencies, civil society organizations, aid agencies and state committees that advocate for the defense of women’s sexual and reproductive rights — said the mistreatment of women by health professionals is “unacceptable.”

Schiavon told newspaper La Jornada that “the abuses, humiliation and general neglect women in labor encounter is a grave and growing problem in Mexico and Latin America that requires an urgent solution.”

“Those who are most affected are usually poor and uneducated women who have a lower capability for dialogue with health workers,” she explained. “Given that, any measures to counter the problem should include different actions for each sector of society.—Latinamerica Press.

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