A survey by Nguvu Collective on Obstetric Violence (OBV) faced by women in Kenya has revealed compelling evidence that Kenyan mothers are being subjected to gross human rights violations while seeking maternal care in healthcare institutions.

The qualitative survey, titled “Towards Ending OBV in Kenya” – Unveiling the Invisible Wounds of Obstetric Violence Through the Voices of Kenyan Women, is a first-of-its-kind attempt to unveil the prevalence of OBV in the country. The survey drew responses from 189 women from 27 counties in 7 provinces of the country.

The key findings of the survey are: 94% of respondents did not report their OBV experience; and felt nothing would be done about it.

83% of respondents had encountered at least one form of OBV.

68% of the OBV incidents experienced by the respondents were gross human rights violations, such as physical and verbal abuse, forced procedures, withholding information, ignoring or dismissing concerns, denial of care, lack of privacy and dignity, discrimination, and failure to follow protocols or guidelines.

Of the women who participated in the survey, 11% were women with disabilities, while 51% of them came from low-income and below-the-poverty-line households. 46% of these women who had experienced OBV were between 25 and 34 years of age.

The survey was a dedicated effort to document stories of Kenyan women who experienced OBV. Over 2 months starting February 2024, Nguvu Change Leaders Harriet Afandi, Deborah Monari, and Josephine Mwende, and Nguvu Collective’s Partnership Specialist Ajra Mohamed, used online survey methods, phone interviews and in person visits to hospitals to gather these stories.

The survey was conducted in partnership with BrightHarriet Foundation, The Debra Show, AbleRise Africa Society, Mukuru Slums Development Projects (MSDP) and their partners (LVCT Kenya), GAMAFRICA Foundation (By Hon. MP Gathoni Wamuchomba), Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK), Center for Advocacy and Awareness on the Rights of Youth- Africa (CAARY-AFRICA).

The various forms of Obstetric Violence that emerged through the survey were:

Psychological and emotional abuse (62%) such as disregard of needs and pain, verbal abuse and humiliation, dehumanising and rude treatment, and discrimination

Physical violence and coercion (10%) such as pressuring or manipulating women into accepting medical interventions or procedures they do not want or need, hitting, slapping, kicking, or restraining a woman during pregnancy, childbirth, or the postpartum period

Medical neglect, malpractice, and unnecessary interventions (28%) such as denial of care, unsanitary maternity settings, non-consensual pelvic exams, forced sterilisations, unnecessary
caesarean sections performed without medical justification, and unnecessary/wrong medication
prescription and recommended usage.

Ajra Mohamed, Partnerships Specialist at Nguvu Collective shared, “OBV is a shocking reality that has seldom been spoken about publicly. This is evidenced by the fact that 94% of the women who participated in the survey said they did not report their OBV experience because they felt no action would be taken. Our survey is a stark reminder of the human toll of Obstetric Violence, which is a serious threat to National progress on maternal, infant, and child health. The situation demands radical change in maternal healthcare policies and practices.”

“The accounts of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse the women shared with us are deeply troubling and anguishing. We were disheartened to listen to their dehumanising experiences while accessing maternal health care. Every woman has the right to be treated with dignity. We cannot and should not ignore the stories that emerged through this survey. We plan to share the findings with key duty-bearers and request them to drive momentum in the Parliamentary debate on the need for a National Policy on OBV,” shared Nguvu Change Leaders Harriet Afandi, Josephine Mwende & Deborah Monari, the team behind “Towards Ending OBV in Kenya”.

Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba has tried to change this narrative of silence by tabling a proposal for a National Policy to address OBV since last year. It is yet to be approved by the

Other Major Findings

The survey team found that a majority of incidents of OBV the respondents reported occurred during childbirth, with 55% of respondents experiencing mistreatment during this vulnerable stage. 27% of the reported incidents occurred during pregnancy, highlighting that mistreatment was not confined to the labour room.

Those most prone to subjecting women to OBV were nurses at 51% followed by doctors, obstetricians and gynaecologists at 25%, and non-clinical staff at 19%.

The survey also revealed that 9% of the reported OBV incidents resulted in infant deaths, while 13% had a long-term negative impact on the child’s health and development. Meanwhile, 21% of OBV incidents affected both the mother and child’s health and development in the long term.

Looking ahead, the survivors who participated in the survey are seeking interventions that will
increase awareness about women’s rights and respectful maternity care. 97% of them stress the importance of formal legislative measures in effectively addressing the issue.

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