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Misogyny and Women's Health

Friday, December 2, 2016


Misogyny is the world’s oldest prejudice, argues Dr David Grimes, and it is one that kills thousands of women every year.

Presenting his keynote address at our conference, Dr Grimes, a Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, tackled the issue of misogyny and its impact on women’s health.

Misogyny, he says, is not just feelings of hate or superiority over women, but is also the disdain or disrespect of women. For this reason he also includes anyone who opposes a woman’s right to access contraception or abortion as a misogynist.

Conference 2016 David Grimes

Dr Grimes says misogyny exists on a spectrum, with attitudes of disdain, apathy and neglect at one end, and femicide (the killing of women) at the other.

  1. Disdain, apathy, neglect
  2. Abuse (verbal, psychological, financial, physical)
  3. Rape
  4. Femicide

According to Dr Grimes, misogyny presents a double threat to women: directly through violence, and indirectly through neglect – most acutely felt in women’s health.

Maternal Mortality

One of the clearest examples of misogyny though neglect is the high rate of maternal mortality seen across the globe. An estimated 289,000 women die from causes relating to pregnancy and childbirth every year - almost 800 women every day.

Dr Grimes says pregnant women are not dying because of untreatable diseases, but because their societies have not yet made the decision that their lives are worth saving.

“Simply put, they die because they do not count.”

Pregnancy-related deaths, he believes, are the result of the denial of women’s human rights.

Unsafe Abortion

Restricting access to abortion or making it illegal is also rooted in misogyny says Dr Grimes.

As we already know, abortion continues to occur whether it is legal or not. However illegal abortion means unsafe abortion, and currently an estimated 47,000 women die from unsafe abortion every year - about 11 women every minute.

“It’s not whether women have abortions, but what they’ll pay for their abortions – in terms of dollars, disease, degradation, or even death,” says Dr Grimes.

Violence against Women

Highlighting the many forms of violence that are perpetrated against women and girls around the world (intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, acid burning, cutting off noses and ears, stoning, sexual harassment and rape) Dr Grimes says this also demonstrates how women’s lives are often seen as worthless.

Femicide, the killing of women and the most extreme manifestation of misogyny, can affect girls from the moment of birth (female infanticide), into adolescence and adulthood (intimate partner femicide, bride burning, and honour killings).

“Misogyny – hard to spell, easy to practise”

Misogyny is present in everyday life; in healthcare, advertising, politics, music, entertainment and the wage gap.

Dr Grimes says clinicians need to lead the struggle against misogyny and stand up for their female patients, even in the face of opposition from government, religion or cultural pressures.

Continuing to provide access to affordable contraception and safe abortion, he believes, is a crucial step in the right direction.

More information

See Stuff's interview and video about Dr David Grimes:  United States governed by men 'who have little regard for women' - US expert 


Dr David Grimes is a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He is also one of the very few physicians in the US who is certified in both obstetrics and gynaecology, and preventative medicine. Dr Grimes is an advocate for abortion rights in the US and co-authored the recently published “Every Third Woman in America: How legal abortion transformed our nation.”

Family Planning co-hosted the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Conference Aotearoa New Zealand 2016 in Wellington, November 10-12.

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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