Gynaecological violence: listen to women

Published 31 Jan 2019 • By Louise Bollecker

Gynaecological violence: listen to women

Whether you have a chronic disease or not, gynaecological examinations are a necessary and sometimes feared step for women. The year 2018 saw many voices speak out against questionable, offensive or dangerous practices, along with the #MeToo movement against harassment and sexual assault.

Gynaecological violence denounced

An intimate and regular appointment in a woman's life, the gynaecological examination is sometimes experienced as a source of embarrassment but can turn into a physically and psychologically difficult moment. The French general practitioner and writer Martin Winckler denounced this phenomenon in one of his books: "when a professional physically or verbally mistreats a patient and responds to her protests (or her signs of pain) with contempt, it is mistreatment, it is no longer a blunder". According to him, the most frequent form of abuse is the doctor's judgment of the patient's weight, her contraceptive choice, her sexual orientation, her willingness or not to have children...

>> 70% of patients have already lied to their doctor to avoid their judgment

"Silence, contempt, derision, threat, blackmail are commonplace, and they are unacceptable," continues Martin Winckler. You go to your doctor to be supported and understood, not to be judged. Violence sometimes goes beyond the psychological: many women have spoken out, particularly on social networks, to denounce deliberately brutal smears or vaginal examinations that are sometimes unnecessary and painful.

The situation is more or less regulated depending on the country: in the United Kingdom, strict rules of behaviour to which gynaecologists must comply have been laid down. Sufficient measures to limit problems?

Be understood and become the director of your health

Is it even possible for a woman to be completely in charge of her contraception, her childbirth, her medical choices? For example, social networks and women's magazines have raised the thorny issue of the introduction of a DUI (intrauterine device), which is very often denied to women who have never had children.

Childbirth is also a source of tension: refusal by health personnel to allow the expectant mother to move as she wishes or adopt the position she deems necessary, systematic episiotomies, lack of psychological follow-up... Many midwives have deplored certain comments that were too dependent, arguing that they cared more than anyone else for the well-being of women and that patients were not always aware of the medical requirements behind the decisions made, sometimes in an emergency, in the delivery room.

The media coverage of endometriosis has also influenced the debates: this disease, which affects 1 in 7 women, came out of the shadows only a few years ago. Many patients were not listened to by their doctors. Their pains, which are comparable to stab wounds in the stomach, were not taken seriously for years.

>> Talk about endometriosis here

The Balkan scandal

If the #MeToo movement had not initially operated in the Balkans, it would have had a delayed effect: after a Croatian MP's speech in Parliament on "15th century" medical practices in her country, many testimonials were broadcast from all over the Balkans.

In Croatia, one in three women reportedly did not receive anaesthesia during painful treatment such as curettage, biopsy, follicular puncture or episiotomy. "While they were immobilizing my hands, legs and head, the doctor said I was crying because I am a spoiled woman," told a woman who had undergone a curettage without anesthesia to a local association that relayed as many testimonials as possible. In total, some 400 testimonials were collected, read publicly in several cities across the country, and submitted to the Ministry of Health.

The Bosnian association Natural Childbirth collected testimonies from more than 300 women on painful gynaecological treatments. The same is true in Serbia where, according to an association, these painful and humiliating treatments are the cause of the drop in the birth rate. A survey in 2015 showed that 10% of Serbian women "do not want to have another child because of a traumatic experience in maternity hospitals during the first birth".

And what do you think of these testimonials?
Have you ever had a bad experience with a gynaecologist? How was your delivery, if you are a mother?
Do you have confidence in your healthcare professional?


avatar Louise Bollecker

Author: Louise Bollecker, Community Manager France

Community Manager of Carenity in France, Louise is also editor-in-chief of the Health Magazine to provide articles, videos and testimonials that focus on patients' experiences and making their voices heard. With a... >> Learn more


JosephineO • Community manager
on 04/02/2019

Did you find this article interesting? Have you experienced anything like this?

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on 08/03/2019
Yes I have had a dreadful experience when trying to give birth to my last child. I was slapped across the legs and told I was lazy by the midwife, she was angry that the birth was taking too long and she wanted to go home. It was my fourth child. Eventually without intervention I managed to give birth to an 11 lb 2 oz baby girl and then I bled so much I passed out. Had four liters of blood by a transfusion in both arms so I could not hold my newborn child. I had to return to the hospital weeks later for a total hysterectomy. That was it for me.

on 08/03/2019

Yes. I certainly had a very bad experience in 1971 giving birth to my first child. I was in labour for 19 hours and had foetal distress, yet nothing was done to progress the labour, nor offered Caecssarian section. During my labour, I was in agony and calling out for some one to do something. A midwife pulled me by my long hair and angrily shouted at me saying "Quiet, you are disturbing other patients. Now shut up, you are not the only one giving birth" The pain was unbearable and i was left with a gas mask in my hand to inhale as and when I wanted. Eventually after 24 hours of being in the labour with Foetal distress, I was sedated and had a Vantoux forceps delivery at 02.00. I was not allowed to see the baby all of the next day and no one told me any thing how the baby was doing. At 20.00 the next day, I was taken to see my baby in the incubator, all wired up, and was told that the baby was having trouble breathing and not feeding and was going to be transferred to a children's hospital. That was the first time I saw my baby and I was not even allowed to hold the baby and they took him away. I took discharge against medical advice and left the hospital o go and see my baby in the children's hospital. I expressed breast milk and took it to the hospital every day to see my baby. He was very poorly and I was not allowed to hold him. The consultant Paediatrician informed me that the baby had sustained extensive brain damage either due to prolonged labour or when sucked out with Vantoux forceps and the chances of servival were low, and that even if he did live, he would not be a normal child.On day 16 of the birth, I was telephoned just as I was getting ready to see my baby, and was told that he had a respiratory arrest whilst doing the  Lumbar puncture and had died. I was not even asked to come to the hospital for the news to be given to me in person. I was told over the phone. I was a single mum, and had gone through all of this on my own. I am sure I was looked down up on because I was a single mum and was treated as an unworthy person. The hospital where I gave birth was a small cottage hospital and was soon shut down after that. Years later when I got married, I was petrified of having children. My Obstetrician was a very understanding and supportive, and informed me that he would not let me go through the labour and I gave birth to 2 healthy children via C. section each time. Its an experience I will never forget.

on 08/03/2019

I've had biopsies, episiotomies and colposcopies in the past without anaesthesia, they were awful experiences. The doctors said I didn't need anaesthesia!! Just the other day I had to go and have another biopsy due to post menopausal bleeding. Again no anaesthesia, the doctor told me that it was a painful experience that I would just have to put up with. You would think in this day and age there would be no need for women to have to suffer such treatment.

lesmal • Ambassador
on 09/03/2019

I've had epilepsy since the age of 16 and decided not to have children due to no warning signal when a seizure was about to happen. Initially, I had my tubes cut and tied but then opted for a hysterectomy in my 30's. I had a great gynaecologist who understood my logic and reasoning for making this decision. Unfortunately, I had a haemorrhage just after the operation and went straight into menopause which she warned me might happen. I was then put on hormonal replacement therapy which I remained on for years. Having an understanding gynaecologist made a big difference warning me of symptoms and changes in the body. I have never regretted not having children but definitely feel for those that have complications! 

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