Obstetric Violence: Romanticizing Childbearing or Medical Bias Against Women?


As a social synonym for procreation, motherhood occupies the bulk of patriarchal teachings, especially when preparing girls for the gender role of “womanhood”. It seems fenced in such a way that it is difficult to penetrate the bubble of romanticism placed around it by legislation or by political, social, and economic institutions. This is due to its value in social reproduction.

However, this patriarchal encirclement has not prevented women from exposing the violence, abuse, and fatigue underlying the role of motherhood within patriarchal systems.

In this context, many feminist writings and experiences have emerged on violence against women during childbirth. Since the advent of modern medicine and its institutions, feminists have uncovered the bad reality of this sector and its violent practices against women and their bodies.

More generally, these studies have been known in South America, such as Mexico, and some African countries, such as Tanzania. These studies have shown the gravity of the violence that women are exposed to in hospitals during childbirth, including physical and verbal abuse and discrimination. This is especially evident if these women come from ethnic minorities and vulnerable economic classes.

However, there is still little interest in studying this phenomenon and the resulting violence and discrimination in the Arabic language. Nonetheless, women’s daily gatherings and discussions reveal the prevalence of such violence in Arabic-speaking countries. It has even developed in the general medical sectors, becoming an experience synonymous with childbirth. Several activists have documented their experiences of childbirth violence on Twitter via the hashtag #obstetric_violence. To expose a set of violations and abuses that are rarely drawn attention to in our countries.

Which makes us wonder: if reproduction is the ultimate role of women in patriarchal systems, why are they punished with abuse during childbirth?

Obstetric violence is part of the childbirth experience

Obstetric violence, or violence during childbirth, is defined as the sum of practices, behaviors, and ideas that expose women to discrimination and neglect, in addition to physical and psychological violence during the birth process from the medical teams and institutions.

This phenomenon produces a bitter experience for women who are about to have children. Abuse prevents them from receiving the necessary health and psychological care.

Obstetric violence does not begin only on the day of birth but extends throughout the months of pregnancy. It includes abuse during medical examinations and reviews. It also includes under its broad umbrella the medical staff’s disregard for the psychological and physical condition of pregnant women, and the failure to take their pain seriously.

Many women also complain about the lack of space provided to listen to each individual case. In addition to not allowing them to ask questions, express their concerns, and understand this experience humanely. That is, highlighting its complex aspects, and acknowledging that it is not just a biological condition. Rather, it varies according to the psychological, social, and economic determinants of each pregnant woman.

Delivery rooms witness greater types of violence. It starts with verbal violence and neglect, and even physical violence that can reach beating, slapping, and mockery of pain. Add to this the sexual stigma, and violation of women’s bodies by performing medical procedures to which they did not consent, or according to the husband’s request. Therefore, medical violations resulting from patriarchal ideology are widespread. The most prominent of these is what is called the “husband’s stitch” performed by doctors without explanation or clarification of its purpose. Until it became part of the birth process and an imposed reality on the childbearing women.

Over the past period, clips documenting women being sexually assaulted during childbirth, especially under anesthesia, have surfaced on social media. These clips are shocking, but they are not unusual for the women’s own experiences with the medical establishment. Sexual assault from male doctors is widespread and rarely discussed. This is due to the power bias, and the aura surrounding the medical institution as a sector that serves people and saves lives.

Why are women punished for having children?

Women’s stories with obstetric violence pose a controversy and have long been associated with patriarchy. This confirms that patriarchy cannot provide safe experiences for women even in cases around which its authority is centered. Gender roles, despite this system’s keenness to establish their importance and status for women, are linked to violent intellectual factors and structures.

In this regard, it is useful to explain the contradiction between encouraging women towards motherhood, pushing them through social institutions, and forcing them to have children while portraying it as an inevitable destination and self-realization on the one hand, and the abuse, violence, and attrition they are subjected to, on the other. In fact, this contradiction stems from patriarchal hostility towards women. Misogyny is an integral part of its deep-rooted values.

There is a constant need to punish women, threaten their security, and label their experiences as discriminatory. This is exactly what happens to large groups of women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Most of them do not comprehend being treated in such a humiliating way. While society, the state, and religious and legal legislations tell them that their value is linked to procreation as a biological act, and care as a social act.

Patriarchal violence within the medical institution is a stumbling block to receiving necessary health care during pregnancy and childbirth for many women. But it is also a direct statement that women will be punished whether they give birth or not.

Medical institutions and patriarchal violence

The history of the medical institution is largely related to patriarchy. Medical curricula are still sexist. It’s like a machine that produces people who are keen to turn patriarchal myths about the body and sexuality into facts that no one can question under the authority of “scientific discipline.”

Medical students graduate loaded with patriarchal brainwashing. It robs them of the ability to behave professionally with women. Even if this professionalism is achieved, it is a result of individual effort rather than institutional structure. The real problem is that of a system that is primarily biased against women in the first place. Secondly, it takes the form of privatization and stratification in many countries of the region, linking good treatment to each individual’s ability to pay.

In this dangerous situation, women are confronted with an institution that forces them to receive care through the private sector that demands exorbitant fees. Otherwise, they’ll be subjected to violence and neglect in the public sector. Most women report that some doctors deliberately abuse them, extorting them for money or treatment in private clinics. This leaves the poorer women, face to face, with inevitable violence, lack of care, and abuse.

In addition, medical institutions have not yet eliminated patriarchal superstitions and stereotypes about women’s bodies and non-binary bodies. Medical curricula are rife with misconceptions about gender and reproduction or refuse to approach them from a professional non-sexist perspective. This is evident in medical practices and patriarchal thoughts passed on to women about their bodies. It also appears in the clear misogyny that characterizes the treatment of women by medical teams with inferiority and indifference to their complaints and pain.

Reproduction as a binary criterion for the medical system

It is worth noting that medical development is accelerating every day. Medical research has reached amazing results in challenging diseases and increasing human survival, as well as in improving their health and their ability to cope with the disease and even control it.

However, this development has not been reflected in the relationship of medicine with women or different gender groups. It is hard to believe this clinging to erroneous and abusive patriarchal ideas while overlooking the need to create a medical system that recognizes how sexist medical practices have been towards women. Unless it is linked to the subordination of the medical institution to the patriarchal system. Maintaining these superstitions and passing them down through generations of medical students is only a form of control and guardianship over women. This, in turn, is what entrenches the same political system that seeks to dominate women’s bodies as “reproductive tools.”


Social media has greatly helped to reflect a true picture of what students are studying in the medical curriculum. We have rarely come across medical clips aimed at women, without them being full of stigma and myths about their bodies, reproduction, and sexuality. Videos that reinforce the myth of the “hymen” or spread misinformation about women’s sexuality and reproductive health are widely circulating. Most notably are clips that spread stereotypes about menstruation, or warn against abortion with a purely patriarchal rhetoric. As for the videos that warn against homosexuality, they are trending on many doctors’ social media content.

The Jordanian Feminist Movement Twitter account posted photos of a model of medical curricula in Jordan. It contains patriarchal ideas, complaining about women’s questions and “pretended” pain. It shows a serious level of violence and guardianship over women in healthcare settings.

Additionally, obstetric violence is associated with the sexual stigmatization of women, such as assaulting them with stigmatizing words when a woman screams in pain during labor. Among these words are: “Why are you screaming now? Didn’t you think about this pain when you opened your legs?”. Or mocking their pain and refusing to give them painkillers, as if they were under punishment. “You enjoyed sex, now bear the consequences.”

Medicine is a profession for survival, not punishment

Stories of abuse, neglect, failure to take women’s pain seriously, violence, invasion of privacy, and sexual stigma leave bad effects on women’s experiences with the medical institution and its workers.

As many countries in the South become dependent on World Bank policies to privatize medical services, these institutions are experiencing intersecting types of violence, including patriarchal and class violence.

This is why feminist efforts are concerned with combating violence within medical institutions. It also calls for accountability, banning patriarchal teachings in medicine, and building human and professional relationships between patients and healthcare providers.

It is also important to oblige the medical sector, whether at the level of medical, administrative, or nursing staff, to adopt protocols that prevent the dissemination and practice of patriarchal ideas and prevent violence within hospitals and medical sectors.

Medicine is a profession that seeks to maintain the health of living beings, protect them, help them survive, treat their diseases, and improve their health. It must not be held hostage to patriarchal ideas and classism. Hospitals must not be turned into frightening places, full of punishment and the smell of death and violence.



Subscribe to our newsletter
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More