This Spaniard, who suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome after giving birth in the north of the country in 2012, appealed to the UN because she was not recognized as a victim in the Spanish courts. In July, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) concluded that she had been the victim of a series of unjustified acts constituting a case of obstetrical violence.
Since this decision, “more than 100 women have contacted me saying that they experienced the same thing”, said Nahia Alkorta, now 36 and mother of three, who lives in the locality of Zizurkil, in Spanish Basque Country. (north). This violence, “we don’t talk about it because of the pain it causes, because of the shame and because there is this idea like that and that’s it”, he continued.
In its report, CEDAW defines obstetrical violence as “a particular form of violence against women during childbirth in hospitals, which has been shown to be widespread, systemic in nature and rooted in health systems”. The Committee considers that Spain must pay Nahia Alkorta “appropriate damages”, without quantifying them, for the physical and psychological damage she suffered.
This decision comes as voices are growing in Europe to denounce this obstetric violence, which often goes unrecognized. In Europe, some national medical associations even reject the term. But for Nahia Alkorta, “women tell a different story”.
A caesarean section that she did not consent to
She suffered from nightmares, insomnia and traumatic memories after an ordeal that began when her water broke at 38 weeks pregnant. In the public hospital in San Sebastián (Basque Country) where she is dependent, she was given oxytocin to induce labor, although she had contractions and no medical explanation was given to her, she said. He also recalled that the staff’s responses to his questions became increasingly aggressive.
“I feel their pity”
The day after she arrived at the hospital, the gynecologists decided to perform a caesarean section, without asking her consent and despite being told by a midwife that the birth was progressing, she added. With her arms tied, a protocol followed by some hospitals for caesareans, and her husband barred from the delivery room, she trembled with fear. “I feel their compassion,” he said.
There is no global data on this problem in Europe. But rights groups say that, on a regular basis, women are denied informed consent and subjected to rude and humiliating behavior by medical staff and, in some cases, not safe practices.
In Serbia, a recent petition collected 70,000 signatures in five days requesting that the state cover the costs sometimes required for the presence of a person to accompany a woman in the delivery room. The petition specifically criticizes insults, humiliation, shouting, as well as negligence and medical errors on the part of the staff, claiming that “many mothers in Serbia want to forget the day they gave birth”.
Amazing legal process
Some countries such as Spain and Italy have established observatories on obstetrical violence, but legal proceedings are rare.
“We are approached by many mothers who suffered a traumatic birth, but almost no one complains,” explains Nina Gelkova, from the Bulgarian organization Rodilnitza. “The state does not recognize the existence of such a problem,” he said.
In the case of Nahia Alkorta, the Spanish State responded to the UN Committee that “there is no a la carte delivery” and that the choice of intervention is “exclusively” incumbent on the doctor, defending the decisions of the country’s courts that ruled in favor of the hospital. “I was never looking for an ‘à la carte’ delivery, I was looking for humane treatment and I did not receive it”, defended Ms. Alcorta. “I am not against rational interventions […]but the limit must always be consent and respect,” he explained.