Why do some health care providers disrespect and abuse women during childbirth in India?



      Disrespect and abuse during childbirth can result in fear of childbirth. Consequently, women may be discouraged to seek care, increasing the likelihood for women to choose elective cesarean section in order to avoid humiliation, postnatal depression and even maternal mortality. This study investigates the causes underlying mistreatment of women during childbirth by health care providers in India, where evidence of disrespect and abuse has been reported.


      Qualitative research was undertaken involving 34 in-depth interviews with midwifery and nursing leaders from India who represent administration, advocacy, education, regulation, research and service provision at state and national levels. Data are analysed thematically with NVivo12. The analysis added value by bringing an international perspective from interviews with midwifery leaders from Switzerland and the United Kingdom.


      The factors leading to disrespect and abuse of women relate to characteristics of both women and their midwives. Relevant woman-related attributes include her age, gender, physical appearance and education, extending to the social environment including her social status, family support, culture of abuse, myths around childbirth and sex-based discrimination. Midwife-related factors include gender, workload, medical hierarchy, bullying and powerlessness.


      The intersectionality of factors associated with mistreatment during childbirth operate at individual, infrastructural, social and policy levels for both the women and nurse-midwives, and these factors could exacerbate existing gender-based inequalities. Maternal health policies should address the complex interplay of these factors to ensure a positive birthing experience for women in India.


      Maternal health interventions could improve by integrating women-centred protocols and monitoring measures to ensure respectful and dignified care during childbirth.


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