Over the last 48 hours, young women have been taking to social media to talk about a rare topic -- how women seeking gynaecological help often receive insensitive, traumatising and humiliating "advice" from doctors.
A young woman recently reported on social media a traumatic ordeal at a gynaecologist's office.
What followed was a "coming-out" of women sharing their horrific experiences while seeking medical advice for sexual and reproductive health.
For most women, the visit to the ob-gyn is the first time in their teenage/adult life that any person -- a stranger at that -- would be inspecting a very intimate part of the body. It is an invasive procedure done with tools, and is hardly a comfortable examination. Disrespectful communication by the doctor can turn an already uncomfortable experience into a traumatic one.
The young woman, a 20-year-old student, went to visit an ob-gyn at Square Hospital Ltd on July 11, with her mother, as she suffers from vaginismus, a condition where any contact causes the muscle walls to spasm involuntarily, resulting in intense pain. Patients of this condition report pelvic exams to be particularly painful.
She went to the doctor to seek treatment for her painful condition, but claimed that what she got instead was misogynistic misconduct. Her social media post has since then been shared over 7,000 times.
"The doctor kept asking me if I was married and if not then, whether my marriage has been fixed, several times. She said it was so shocking that a girl who isn't even married is so concerned about her sexual health. She said she was happy she didn't die from coronavirus, otherwise she wouldn't have come across such a funny case," claimed the woman to this correspondent.
"She told me that I should not talk to anyone about my health concerns, and that me even knowing about vaginismus is going to create problems for me in the future. She said that women like me need 'wild husbands' who can rape at an instance because such women never want to give permission for intercourse, since the act is painful for them, and that once raped, everything will be okay," she told The Daily Star.
For a woman with such a painful condition, this suggestion left her traumatised.
Under the Bangladeshi law, marital rape is not considered a crime and Bangladesh is one of the 36 countries in the world where marital rape is still legal.
When contacted for comments, Square Hospitals Ltd circulated a statement by the gynaecologist, where the doctor said "the patient and her mother expressed no dissent during the conversation that took place, nor did they file any complaint afterwards."
The doctor called the claims "baseless" and "intending to discredit her". Square Hospital questioned why the woman did not lodge a complaint with the hospital and took to Facebook instead. The statement is also available on Square Hospital's Facebook page.
She, however, said, "I did not even know about the woman until two days ago and I have no benefit in trying to take down her career. I didn't say anything immediately because I was having anxiety and broke down in a panic attack at her words." Point to note, that the conversation also occurred right after the young woman had undergone an extremely painful pelvic exam.
This one post by this young woman opened the door for other women coming forward to talk about their experiences at the ob-gyn -- and why sexual and reproductive rights is still missing from the conversation of sexual and reproductive health.
Kazi Sumaita Nahar shared on social media about how her sister was repeatedly harassed by a gynaecologist during a recent visit at a top-tier hospital in the capital.
"My sister had been sensing a lump-like growth inside her genital tract and we wanted to get it checked by a doctor. My sister is 30 and unmarried. The first thing the doctor asked was 'What problem could an unmarried girl have?' Then, when my sister described the symptom, the doctor disbelieved her and exclaimed 'Do you think flesh would hang from the sky down there?' She then proceeded to do a pelvic exam but threatened her by saying 'If I don't find anything you will be in trouble'," described Sumaita, speaking to this correspondent.
She did find a lump and told Sumaita and her sister it was a miscarried fetus. "We kept insisting that that is not possible, but she was not believing us. My sister had a panic attack and started screaming and crying on the chair. When she calmed down a little, the ob-gyn said there was a possibility it could be a cervical polyp. We just paid and left," narrated Sumaita.
It was a cervical polyp, they discovered during a follow-up visit to another doctor -- but the experience left the woman traumatised. Sumaita and her sister complained to the hospital but are yet to receive any proper apology.
Joining the bandwagon, multiple women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) spoke on social media about how doctors told them that they need to marry and have children, disregarding their own life or career goals, to be healthy.
Women who suffer from PCOS struggle to get pregnant -- but having children is not an end goal for many women. Meanwhile, single, sexually active women posted about problems of accessing contraceptives or STD check-ups from ob-gyns.
"A doctor wrote on my contraception prescription 'unmarried but sexually active'," confided a woman to this correspondent. "I had to present that paper to the pharmacist."
On the flipside, married women reported being shamed for wanting to abort pregnancies.
Two women, who also preferred anonymity, reached out to this correspondent to share their experiences trying to get an MR (menstrual regulation) procedure.
"I was seeking a surgical abortion for my pregnancy of eight weeks. The doctor at this chain hospital told me that this is a sin, and that she cannot commit the sin. She advised me to take pregnancy termination pills and then when I am haemorrhaging, I should check myself into the emergency. She did this without once evaluating whether I can withstand the haemorrhaging," described a 29-year-old woman.
Another woman described how she was asked whether she has "permission" from the husband to terminate her pregnancy.
When a woman is visiting the ob-gyn, they are seeking a confidante to advise them on things they cannot share with others. A lack of sensitivity on the part of the doctors is more than just poor bedside manners -- it's a violation of the trust that patients place on them.