Proposed law seeks to protect women from pregnancy-related violence

Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba. [File, Standard]

Pregnant women will be protected against mistreatment by healthcare workers if a new bill by Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba is considered.

The mistreatment of pregnant women, generally referred to as Obstetric Violence (OBV), includes any act by a health worker that causes harm to someone who is pregnant, giving birth or has recently given birth.

Those who experience OBV may feel shamed, ignored, disrespected, helpless or violated.

Some of the root causes for obstetric violence include constraints within health systems such as poor funding, training and not meeting obligations to provide adequate facilities and staff – including gender and power imbalance of health professionals, according to the UN in a report in 2019.

The types of OBV include wrong treatment, denial of care, forced procedures, physical abuse, detention in health facilities, discrimination, verbal abuse, newborn and infant theft, as well as exchange of newborn babies.

Wamuchomba said her Bill, which is yet to be introduced in parliament, will provide the legal, administrative, and economic frameworks against OBV in Kenya if passed into law.

“Every woman, regardless of her social or economic status, deserves a dignified and respectful childbirth experience, free from any form of violence or abuse. The time has come for us to undo the injustices suffered by women under OBV in Kenya,” Wamuchomba said.

The MP spoke at a sensitisation forum on OBV against pregnant women in Kenya organised by Gathoni Muchomba Africa Foundation (GAMAFRICA) in partnership with the Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association (KEWOPA).

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Women’s rights advisor to the president, Harriet Chigai, said the causes of the violence are multi-faceted and may arise from health workers, employers and the most painful ones may arise from the family.

However, she added that most of the cases occur in institutions of care.

“A woman seeks care during her most vulnerable moment and instead of receiving the much-needed attention, she finds a burnt-out healthcare professional,” Chigai said.

She said that as a society, there is a need to give dignity to the process of bringing forth life.

“As women in leadership, we need to protect and champion the respect of women, feel their pain, honour their duty to humanity, inform them of their available choices, and offer support during their journey,” Chigai said.

KEWOPA chairperson, Leah Sankaire said that OBV is a serious and widespread problem that violates women's rights and undermines the principles of compassionate and respectful maternity care.

She said that KEWOPA is committed to working on ensuring that there is a legal framework in place to ensure that pregnant are cautioned against Obstetric violence.

“We as women legislators continue to be committed to a violent free society, a people that not only appreciate the demerits of the practice but also understands that it undermines the rights of women and girls,” Leah said.