Obstetric Violence - A shocking reality that needs urgent attention

Preethi Herman CEO, Nguvu Collective.[Courtesy]

When Josephine found out she was pregnant, she felt as if God had remembered her and answered her prayers. 

But when her labour started, Josephine born with Cerebral palsy was dismissed from a hospital which left her heart broken.

As a Nguvu Change leader, Josephine was determined never to allow any other person to go through what she went through.

 She launched a campaign for the rights of people with disabilities in public hospitals and worked with other Nguvu Change leaders Harriet Afandi and Deborah Monari to carry out a survey on Obstetric Violence faced by women in Kenya.

The first-of-its-kind survey, released this month, reveals compelling evidence that Kenyan mothers are being subjected to gross human rights violations while seeking maternal care. 

83 per cent  of respondents experienced some form of Obstetric Violence - including psychological and emotional abuse (62pc), medical neglect or unnecessary interventions (28pc) and physical coercion (10pc). 

11per cent of these respondents were persons with disabilities who survived Obstetric Violence, like Josephine. Sadly, for 9per cent of women who responded to the survey, this resulted in an infant death.

What is perhaps most shocking, is that 94per cent of women who participated in the survey said they did not report their OBV experience because they felt no action would be taken.

There are many good solutions to this widespread problem - from strong national standards and government observers to training and awareness programmes to combat stigma - but Kenyan women need their politicians to prioritise the issue and act. Githunguri Member of Parliament Gathoni Wamuchomba tabled a proposal for developing a National Policy on Obstetric Violence in November last year, but parliamentary discussions on the motion have been delayed. 

As we saw with the anti-femicide movement this year, we are at a watershed moment - where Kenyan women are speaking out about serious threats to their health and demanding radical change in the country.

At Nguvu Collective, we believe long-lasting positive change can only be driven by those who are closest and most impacted by the problem - like Josephine, Harriet, and Deborah who led this survey and continue to campaign on the issue.

 For survivors of Obstetric Violence reading this - your truth needs to be heard and change needs to happen.

This attempt at evidence-building on OBV is just the beginning. There is a long road ahead to the day when Kenyan mothers will rightfully receive dignified maternity care.

 But, we do not doubt that our Change leaders, their allies and the communities they build, will pursue this unaddressed topic of Obstetric Violence, and drive the change Kenyan women deserve.

Preethi Herman is the CEO and Co-Founder of Nguvu Collective (Power Collective) which helps emerging women leaders unlock their leadership power to create a positive impact at scale.