In pain thou shalt bring forth children? For a human right to pain relief in childbirth
In recent years, increasing attention has been dedicated to the quality of childbirth conditions for women around the world, following the wave of civil society movements that promoted the protection of human rights in childbirth. In this context, a crucial factor to be addressed is pain and its management: this thesis stems from the observation that there is an absence of any human right to pain relief in childbirth, even though studies show that many women who complained about their pain were ignored, disbelieved or not taken seriously, and that pain relief was denied to them, even when they explicitly requested it. I decided to explore the reasons underlying the little attention dedicated to this issue, both on the part of institutions and on the part of medical staff. This thesis analyzes the meanings and values attached to pain in childbirth, which are deeply influenced by religious and cultural beliefs; it then examines the present international human rights framework on pain relief. This analysis reveals that gender plays a fundamental role in making women’s pain in childbirth undervalued and often unseen, and that, ultimately, the denial of pain relief in childbirth can be regarded as a violation of human rights and as a type of gender-based violence. Therefore, I support a human right to pain relief in childbirth and hypothesize that obstetric violence is a potentially effective device to confront the neglect of pain relief in childbirth in medical facilities. Keywords: pain, pregnancy, childbirth, gender, stereotypes, pain relief, human rights, women’s rights, gender-based violence, obstetric violence.