Teaching women to stand up to the doctor’s god complex

Deep inside Mukuru Kwa Njenga, one of the informal settlements of Nairobi, gender-based violence is rampant and often results in unplanned pregnancies. Most women do not have access to higher education and their life circumstances lead them to become mothers at a very young age without a choice. In addition, they’re constantly exposed to obstetric violence when seeking medical care.

A few non-governmental organizations have a history of reaching out to them to discuss sensitive subjects such as family planning and safe abortion. So, during the /16 Days of Activism/ global campaign, safe2choose decided to join the efforts of Fortress of Hope Africa (FOHA) and of HowToUseAbortionPill to organize an empowering talk with the young mothers of this area. The activity was part of our “16 Tips to Fight Abortion Stigma” campaign.

Our focus this time was to bring light upon the obstetric violence health professionals are subjecting women to. Even though doctors are seen as the most educated people in a community, this position comes with responsibilities that are not always fulfilled.

Women from poor backgrounds are even more vulnerable to social stigmas and often reach out to health professionals quite desperately when in need of an abortion. Not because abortion in itself is an act of desperation, far from that but because of all the myths and prejudices surrounding it. In these cases, the community is rarely a source of support or reliable information, and medical providers should be the logical social support. However, what if they don’t provide the rightful information and treatment either?

Obstetric violence is recognized as gender-based violence and is a violation of human rights. It includes “denying care, disregarding women’s needs and pain, verbal abuse, physical violence, unnecessary use of medication, forced or coerced medical interventions and dehumanized and rude treatment” (1).

The issue is very well documented around child-birth, but much less spoken of when it comes to general gynecological violence faced by women. Healthcare professionals should be the main resource for women to go to for advice. They should be the ones providing a free-of-judgement attention and treating patients as equals while respecting their autonomy.

However, too often doctors are put on a pedestal because of their social status and they feel entitled to some kind of special power. In addition, due to lack of quality education, women frequently aren’t aware of their rights and what they are entitled to. That is why we chose to spend time with these young mothers.

Together, we’ve looked into situations these women have faced and we’ve tried foreseeing future experiences, analyzing which ones were acceptable and which ones were not. Some actions are just too entrenched and too common, making it really hard to even realize how violent the treatment towards women has been for years.

The tenure of a practice doesn’t make it acceptable. Things must change. safe2choose believes that raising awareness with community empowerment and medical staff training needs to be at the top of chain. That’s why not only do we provide women with online consultations and access to abortion pills, but also invest on such meetings with local partners to make sure the whole medical ecosystem improves.

safe2choose is here to give back the power of decision to women themselves and to allow them to access affordable safe abortions at the privacy of their home, free of any stigma and judgement. We trust the very special meeting in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi, has added another step to this long arduous, and nevertheless beautiful, walk.

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(1) University of Oxford