If you look at the latest MDG report from Bulgaria, the country seems to have fulfilled its obligations regarding MDG 5, especially as far as maternal mortality is concerned. But this overlooks a whole world of human rights violations against pregnant women in Bulgaria. The stories we hear from women present a different picture of what they experience during childbirth in Bulgarian hospitals.
On November 25, 2013 the non profit organization Rodilnitza launched a campaign to educate women and care providers on the manifestations of obstetric violence – this is violence performed by medical professionals against women in labor.
What started as a simple question that we posted on our Facebook website quickly snowballed into unimaginable proportions. We asked women to share what they had heard from medical professionals while they were giving birth in the hospital. We started receiving photos of women holding sheets of paper with the words they had heard on the birthday of their child: “Nobody is asking you if you want to,” “Stop pulling your legs together!,” “Babies have no business being with their mothers,” “Why are you complaining? When you had sex it didn’t hurt, why are you hurting now?” “Stop whining like a bitch! You are going to squirt it out like a shit,” “Why did you move, I lost your vein, I am going to slap you,” “Who are you going to complain to? I have witnesses, you have nobody.”
The stories women shared, the words they heard, the abuse they experienced would be unacceptable in any other situation. Yet, they were tolerated by both medical professionals and their peers, and society as a whole. It seemed that women were losing their human rights upon entering the hospital. They were not regarded as human beings but rather as medical cases that needed to be treated. They were not given an opportunity for true informed consent but rather given a form to sign, while in labor pains and without an opportunity to read and discuss what they were agreeing to. When women shouted “NO!” the hospital staff proceeded without regard to their cries. Women were cut, pushed, and pulled apart while being in the most vulnerable situation in their life. And all these abuses were performed in front of many witnesses, none of whom will stand in court to defend the rights of women for fear of losing their jobs.
In the Post-2015 Development Agenda we have to include women’s rights in childbirth. Women should not lose their human rights and dignity upon entering the hospital. Women should be treated with respect on the birthday of their child and remember it fondly and not cry every year when they remember the abuse they experienced. Women have the right to the highest attainable standard of health and this includes care that is holistic, evidence-based and centered on their human rights.