Entry type: Single project
Publishing organisation: SWL- Sharika Wa Laken is a pioneering feminist digital news platform targeting women in the arab world.
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 2022-12-06
Language: Arabic, English
Authors: Ruba El-Helou, professor of political media and gender, supervised the investigation’s production.
I’m an Egyptian journalist with more than 13 years of experience.
I obtained a BA in Mass Communication from Cairo University in 2009, and worked as an investigative journalist, in-depth stories, and content manager.
I’m Interested in content related to human rights, women rights and especially women’s health rights.
I have good knowledge and passion for investigative journalism and data journalism.
I obtained a diploma on data journalism with the support of ARIJ and the International Center for Journalists.
I was recently awarded a Feminist Investigative Journalism grant, and a Constructive Journalism Fellowship.
A data-driven investigation reveals that some women are subjected to forced vaginal examinations without permission, unnecessarily, without respect for their privacy during childbirth.
women are subjected to surgical interventions without painkillers.
Women are exposed to multiple forms of obstetric violence, including verbal and physical violence.
The investigation analysis a database of 1,000 women who gave birth in Egypt, revealing that women with lower incomes and those who gave birth in government hospitals are the most vulnerable to abuse.
The investigation won the Feminist Investigative Journalism grant.
The investigation published in 6 Dec 2022, and updated later, It’s appears here:
Obstetric violence is a global problem, and despite the high rates of obstetric violence and violations of privacy, the problem is not covered by the media, especially in the Arab region.
There is no official data about the obstetric violence and the vaginal examinations without permission, unnecessarily, without respect for their privacy during childbirth in Egypt.
For the investigation I submitted a database that depends on the data of 1000 women who gave birth in Egyptian hospitals, about their exposure to obstetric violence or not, and it revealed shocking violations.
Women usually do not disclose that they have been subjected to abuse during childbirth, in order to avoid social stigma and the difficulty of proving that the violations occurred.
Some women even believe that some of these abuses are normal and do not constitute a violation.
The investigation resonated among women and civil society organizations, especially those who work on women and health rights, and contributed to raising women’s awareness of their rights during childbirth, and what they should do if they are subjected to any transgressions.
The Cairo Foundation for Development and Law, a feminist organization concerned with women’s health rights, has launched a hotline to provide legal and psychological support to women who have been subjected to childbirth violence.
It also organized a campaign to educate women about their rights while receiving health care, during medical examinations and giving birth.
The investigation relies on analyzing data from official health surveys from 1995 to 2021, as well as health studies in which the World Health Organization, the International Population Council and the official Ministry of Health participated, in order to provide data on the general context of health care provided to women, places for women to obtain health care, and their preferences. About places to receive medical services, and the reasons for their reluctance to receive care in government places.
In order to provide more specific data about obstetric violence and violation of privacy, I designed a questionnaire that included 18 questions, and 1,000 women participated in answering it, all of whom gave birth in governmental, university and private Egyptian hospitals and representatives of various Egyptian regions, with the aim of revealing the state of respect for women’s privacy, the extent of their exposure to violence during childbirth, and covering Absence of data addressing this issue.
In writing the investigation, I relied on the digital storytelling method, and I flirted with data with stories to employ the dense data more effectively, and we provided simplified designs for the data to ensure the best comprehension and analysis from the reader.
Context about the project:
I was working on a data-driven investigation on the inflated rates of cesarean section deliveries in Egypt, which ranks first in the world at 72% of deliveries, while disciplined global rates estimate the necessary percentage at only 15%.
The main reason for the high rates of cesarean section and the endangerment of mothers and newborns was the guidance of doctors and the lack of controls for resorting to cesarean section, but the other prominent reason is what women states: “I do not want their hands to enter my body without permission and without reason.”
Women’s health rights do not receive much attention, either officially or popularly, in Egypt. Their complaints are ignored on the grounds that they are emotional and exaggerate the impact of Obstetric violence on them! Most women avoid complaining to avoid social stigmatization.!
As for the violations they are exposed to during childbirth, such as breaching privacy and conducting vaginal examinations without permission and without explaining their purpose and sometimes unnecessarily, they are dealt with as an emergency event that ends with childbirth. As for its psychological and physical impact on women, it is not usually paid attention to.
Women who are subjected to childbirth violence suffer more because of their lack of support and understanding that they were affected by the traumatic experience they went through, and because most violations are usually committed against poor women, the violence and pressure is double and of course passes without account.
To prove the extent of the problem and the extent of the damage, it was necessary to present an investigation driven by data. Global data was available, but because the matter does not receive governmental attention in Egypt, there are no official local data available at all. Unfortunately, no data was also available on civil society institutions, except for what they collected from some Testimonies of women who experienced childbirth violence.
I designed a questionnaire for women who gave birth in Egyptian hospitals, and 1,000 women shared their data and experiences. Analysis of their data revealed shocking rates of obstetric violence in its various forms that women face in Egypt.
The poorest women, and those who delivered their children in government or teaching hospitals, were the most likely to have their privacy violated, as they were subjected to vaginal examinations without permission, without a cover, unnecessarily, and collectively, and most of them were unable to refuse on the grounds that they were placed in a government hospital.
Some women underwent surgical procedures (episiotomy and suturing) unnecessarily and without permission, and some were subjected to excessive narrowing of the vagina under the pretext of sexual gratification of their husbands.
Confronting obstetric violence and the violation of privacy during childbirth is one of women’s human rights, and it is able to protect hundreds of thousands of women and newborns annually in Egypt from the risks of medically unjustified caesarean section.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
I think the most important thing we can talk about in this project is:
Capturing the story.. the stories on the side of the road as our professor in journalism teaches us. In this project, a woman I met by chance was telling me about her beautiful newborn and her postpartum depression, and suddenly she began to remember how every doctor, medical student or nurse used to put his hand in her vagina to examine her when he was born. This was done without her permission and without explaining the reason, en masse.
Verifying the story.. This was my second stage to verify that the woman’s story is real first and that it occurs repeatedly second, and here I discovered dozens of violations that affected other women.
Using data.. The use of data was necessary to reveal the size and forms of violations against women, who commit them, where and their impact on women, and other important details, to highlight the depth of the problem and societal normalization with it as a normal matter despite being a horrific violation that affects the bodies and lives of women, their future and their families.
Not stopping in front of the lack of data.. The lack of data is, of course, a problem, and in this project, there are no official data at all, just as there is no data available from Local civil society institutions.
The alternative was to create a database that includes data and testimonies of 1,000 Egyptian women who gave birth in Egyptian hospitals, and analyze the data to provide information and data that address this problem for the first time, which revealed a horrific reality faced by women in delivery rooms, especially those who are poorer and who are forced to give birth in hospitals government.