#MeToo movement in Balkans focuses on hospital humiliation

Activists gathering outside Croatia's Parliament building on Oct 19 to highlight women's traumatic hospital experiences. A tide of #MeToo testimonies about such experiences is rippling across the Balkans.
Activists gathering outside Croatia's Parliament building on Oct 19 to highlight women's traumatic hospital experiences. A tide of #MeToo testimonies about such experiences is rippling across the Balkans.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ZAGREB (Croatia) • A tide of #MeToo testimonies about painful gynaecological procedures and abusive medical staff is rippling across the Balkans, where women are breaking taboos in patriarchal societies to share their traumatic hospital experiences.

The outcry was sparked by one female politician's emotional account of an agonising treatment she received after a miscarriage, shocking many in a region where sexual health is rarely discussed in the public sphere.

"They tied my arms and legs and started a curettage without anaesthesia... These were the 30 most horrible minutes of my life," Croatian MP Ivana Nincevic-Lesandric told a male-dominated Parliament last October.

"I could tell you about every second as each was lasting an eternity," she said of the surgery that involves scraping tissue from the uterus and is often performed after a miscarriage or abortion.

"Do you plan to change this and when?" she challenged Health Minister Milan Kujundzic.

Arguing that "this is not how Croatian hospitals proceed", the minister pledged to investigate the case, while the hospital where she was treated rejected her claims.

But Croatian women came to her defence, with hundreds offering testimonies of similarly painful and humiliating experiences during gynaecological procedures.

 
 
 

The outcry in Croatia inspired a wave of similar grievances across the region. In neighbouring Bosnia, the Natural Birth non-governmental organisation (NGO) received more than 300 testimonies from women on painful gynaecological procedures in just 10 days.

"Maternity wards are the last places of institutional violence against women," the NGO's president, Sarajevo doctor Amira Cerimagic, said.

The stories are similar in Serbia, where "women enter maternity wards mostly frightened and leave very often with traumas", Ms Jovana Ruzicic, of Belgrade-based Centre for Moms, said.

A 2015 survey showed that 10 per cent of Serbian women "do not want to have another child ever due to a traumatic hospital experience with the first child", she said.

In Zagreb, Ms Nincevic-Lesandric said she did not expect such a strong response to her testimony.

"Women have managed, unfortunately due to traumatic experience, to raise awareness of the problem to the level that every woman knows her rights and what should not happen to her," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline '#MeToo movement in Balkans focuses on hospital humiliation'. Print Edition | Subscribe