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No More Taboo: Obstetric and Gynaecologic Violence is Now Addressed by the European Council

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Thanks to social movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp more and more women worldwide have gotten vocal about their experiences of sexual harassment.

But has #MeToo reached the doctor’s office?

A recent trend highlights how thousands of women have spoken out against sexist acts and violence experienced during gynaecology consultations or while giving birth, showing once again how gender inequality can easily lead to violence.

This issue, which has remained taboo for too long, is now more discussed: much attention has been given to these scenarios because of the high profile case involving Larry Nassar, a former doctor for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, convicted of abusing more than 150 female athletes.

And even though in most countries it remains a sensitive and difficult topic to address, some steps forward have been made.

The European Council has condemned obstetric and gynaecologic violence and calls on the  Member States to address the problem with the resolution 2306/2019, adopted on October the 3rd in the autumn session chaired by the French President Emmanuel Macron, under the ‘The Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women: achievements and challenges’, which fights all forms of violence against women and emphasises raising awareness of the problem.-raising activities for the general public.

Thanks to the resolution obstetric and gynaecologic assaults are now recognised as violence against women.

But what is it exactly and how can people recognise this form of violence? 

Being subjected to invasive tests such as vaginal palpations without consent, pressure on the uterus or painful operations performed without anesthesia means being subjected to violence, as well as receiving sexist insults from hospital staff during visits.

Women are often vulnerable when they visit a doctor and the context in which screening tests and exams are presented increases this vulnerability. Some women believe they need to do what the doctor instructs them to do and others might be concerned that if they aren’t compliant they won’t have their healthcare needs met.

“Obstetric and gynaecologic violence affects women when they are particularly vulnerable: before, during and after childbirth, during a visit to the doctor, or even when put to sleep by an anaesthetic” – according to the document issued by the European Parliamentary Assembly.

“This violence is pernicious and can be invisible. It is often internalised by the women who experience it, and are told that it is one of the hazards of childbirth and are required to accept the pain and stop complaining.”

The scope of the resolution 2306/2019 is to take note of the situation and make recommendations to Member States on the measures which are necessary to ensure medical care for women, with full respect of their rights, their bodies and their health.

Taking into consideration the difficult working conditions and limited resources of healthcare facilities that can hugely affect care, the European Council denounces all forms of violence against women, including this one, and calls for all necessary preventive measures to be taken and for the human rights of all to be upheld, in particular in the context of healthcare.

Therefore, Member States are invited to conduct information and awareness campaigns on patients’ rights and establish mechanisms that allow the reporting of episodes of obstetric and gynaecologic violence, and sanctions for doctors and medical staff.

Furthermore, the resolution considers it necessary to guarantee appropriate assistance for women victims of obstetric and gynaecologic violence.

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