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Respectful Care During Labor and Childbirth

Dec 3, 2018 | News, Tanzania

This posting from Rose Mlay, National Alliance Coordinator for WRA Tanzania, describes a woman’s experience in a maternity ward in Tanzania. Although every woman should have her right to privacy and confidentiality during maternity care upheld, overcrowding and lack of privacy accompany childbirth for many women in Africa.

African women, like others in other continents, give birth to dignitaries such as presidents, prime ministers, bishops, judges; even Jesus came to earth through a woman. Who is he or she that is too great to be borne by a woman? But the way African women are treated when giving birth is horrendous!

I witnessed a young woman giving birth in a labor ward in Tanzania. She must have been 20 years old, giving birth for the first time. The labor ward was like a hall where each woman could see what is happening to their peers in the next bed or at the far end of the ward. Cleaners were cleaning and seeing the deliveries. Senior doctors, nurses, students of all walks, laboratory technicians taking blood and others bringing results, and so on, were in this open hall and the young woman knew they would all see her nakedness. The medical attendant instructed her to open-wide her legs because she was due to push. On the contrary, the young woman held her legs closed very tight, to the extent that if one was to force they would fear breaking them.

The medical attendant, in a panic, shouted, “Open your legs just as you did when you were conceiving!” Most likely the young woman reflected on the moment when she was conceiving, where it was only the two of them in their dark bedroom, behind locked doors, enjoying a privacy which was totally different from this labor ward! In tears, she closed her legs even tighter, a behavior that attracted what they called an “obstetric slap” on the thigh. This made things worse, as she would not let her privacy be violated. She kept closing her legs tighter still. She and the baby were getting tired. A senior midwife was consulted and she started convincing the young woman in a more polite and professional way. Finally, the baby was delivered through a vacuum extraction.

In Tanzania to date husbands/partners are not allowed in labor wards because of the lack of privacy and overcrowding. Lack of privacy is a violation of women’s basic rights as human beings, because no woman would like to be seen naked or to be exposed to another’s nakedness at any time that she goes to a labor ward for maternity care.

Click HERE to learn about seven articles of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights for Childbearing Women.

This article was originally posted in 2013.

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