A study published on Wednesday in The Lancet Journal has revealed that more than a third of women in Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and Myanmar are being mistreated during childbirth.
The women had experienced physical or verbal abuse, stigma or discrimination during labour, the World Health Organization (WHO), which led the study, said.
Younger, less-educated women were found to be most vulnerable to mistreatment in the form of stigmatisation, discrimination, undergoing medical procedures without consent, the use of force in procedures, or abandonment or neglect by health workers.
Mistreatment of women during childbrith is rife in sub-Saharan Africa, where midwives and nurses are poorly trained, underpaid and constantly stressed due to work overload and poor working conditions.
Twenty-two year-old Giselle Masungi, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who gave birth to her first child when she was only 16, said she will never forget the trauma she went through in the maternity ward.
“They yelled at me time to time as I was struggling to push, they slapped me twice and called me names including slut, pervert and so on. It was terrible. These people are witches,” Masungi told Daily Afrika from the capital Kinshasa.
“The fact that I was young, unmarried and the father of my baby left me the same day I told him I was pregnant gave them the ground to ill treat me,” she added.
The report said some 14% of women experienced physical abuse in the form of being slapped, hit or punched, while others experienced non-consensual caesarean sections, and episiotiomies (surgical cuts to the vagina during childbirth) and vaginal examinations.
Quality support, particularly from midwives for women in labour, can make the difference between life and death, the WHO said.
“Mdwifery has been shown to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and stillbirth rates, by over 80 per cent, and reduces pre-term labour and birth by 24%. Yet, more than 800 women still die every day during the process,” the report said.