Providers' perceptions of disrespect and abuse during childbirth: A mixed-methods study in Kenya

Patience A. Afulani, Ann Marie Kelly, Laura Buback, Joseph Asunka, Leah Kirumbi, Audrey Lyndon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Disrespect and abuse during childbirth are violations of women's human rights and an indicator of poor-quality care. Disrespect and abuse during childbirth are widespread, yet data on providers' perspectives on the topic are limited. We examined providers' perspectives on the frequency and drivers of disrespect and abuse during facility-based childbirth in a rural county in Kenya. We used data from a mixed-methods study in a rural county in Western Kenya with 49 maternity providers (32 clinical and 17 non-clinical) in 2016. Providers were asked structured questions on disrespect and abuse, followed by open-ended questions on why certain behaviours were exhibited (or not). Most providers reported that women were often treated with dignity and respect. However, 53% of providers reported ever observing other providers verbally abuse women and 45% reported doing so themselves. Observation of physical abuse was reported by 37% of providers while 35% reported doing so themselves. Drivers of disrespect and abuse included perceptions of women being difficult, stress and burnout, facility culture and lack of accountability, poor facility infrastructure and lack of medicines and supplies, and provider attitudes. Provider bias, training and women's empowerment influenced how different women were treated. We conclude that disrespect and abuse are driven by difficult situations in a health system coupled with a facilitating sociocultural environment. Providers resorted to disrespect and abuse as a means of gaining compliance when they were stressed and feeling helpless. Interventions to address disrespect and abuse need to tackle the multiplicity of contributing factors. These should include empowering providers to deal with difficult situations, develop positive coping mechanisms for stress and address their biases. We also need to change the culture in facilities and strengthen the health systems to address the system-level stressors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-586
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Policy and Planning
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Disrespect and abuse
  • Kenya
  • maternity providers
  • mistreatment
  • person-centred maternity care
  • quality of care
  • respectful maternity care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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