One in Three Mexican Women Face Obstetric Violence
Obstetric violence is an unfortunately common practice in Mexico’s public and private health sectors. More than one third of women in the country have experienced this type of gender violence and the pandemic may have only increased instances.
The pressing issue of obstetric violence, defined as a “specific violence against women and other people with the ability of giving birth which contributes to the violation of human rights” by the Group of Information in Chosen Reproduction (GIRE), has received global attention as a pressing public health issue during the last decade. In 2018, the WHO updated its recommendations for positive childcare experience to “the concept of experience of care as a critical aspect of ensuring high-quality labor and childbirth care and improved woman-centered outcomes, and not just complementary to provision of routine clinical practices.”
An estimated 33.4 percent of Mexican women have suffered mistreatment during childbirth, according to INEGI's 2016 National Survey of Household Relations (ENDIREH). After childbirth, 9.2 percent of patients were pressured to accept a contraceptive method and 4.2 percent had one placed or were even permanently sterilized without consent. In the time since, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened childbirth practices worldwide, increasing unnecessary restrictions and interventions during labor.
Early reports of post-COVID-19 deliveries show an immediate increase in unnecessary cesareans sections, instrumental deliveries, prohibition of companionship during labor, immediate separation from newborns and breastfeeding prevention for COVID-19 positive or suspected-positive women despite the update of WHO recommendations on March 13, 2020. The Official Mexican Norm 007 of 2016 for medical attention during pregnancy, labor and postpartum period stresses the medical priority for reducing c-section procedures
Even before the pandemic, Mexico’s 46.1 percent rate of administering cesareans sections was well above the WHO’s recommended 10-15 percent. While some of these procedures are previously planned and consented to, many women are pressured or rushed into a c-section during labor. The ENDIREH report found that one out of 10 women who had one administered were not given a reason for it or asked for their permission.
“Many times, women who live in secluded areas, for example, have to travel long journeys to reach a health center, which may not have enough supplies or health personnel to attend them,” said Verónica Esparza, Coordinator and Researcher, GIRE.
Medical professionals interviewed by Animal Politico agreed that unfortunately, indigenous women and those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds suffer from obstetric violence disproportionately. These procedures and the discrimination also have important psychological effects on women that can impact their sex lives, future family planning and general trust in healthcare providers.
Roberto Castro of the UNAM Center for Regional Multidisciplinary Research points to a structural issue in the public and private health sectors as a primary motive for this discrimination that needs to be addressed. The saturation of health professionals can lead to a lack of judgment in administering an unnecessary c-section. However, a larger fight against gender discrimination, to which the UN’S International Women’s Day is supposed to draw global attention to, can make strides in ensuring a women’s consent and safety is prioritized medically.