Ethical dilemmas at both the individual and structural level are part of the daily work of midwives and gender inequality and injustice can affect women’s sexual and reproductive health. Mainstream bioethical theory has been criticized for neglecting women’s issues. To ensure women’s experiences are addressed, a gender lens on ethics is crucial.
This study develops a theory model by exploring ethical dilemmas related to gender in the context of maternity care from the perspective of midwifery science and feminist ethics.
The research strategy followed a coherent stepwise approach: literature search, thematic analysis, elaboration of a gender ethics protocol, and the integration of various components into a preliminary gender ethics model for midwifery.
A literature search was performed using Scopus and Web of Science to identify ethical dilemmas in maternity care linked to gender and power. The search of articles published between 1996 and 2019 returned 61 abstracts. These abstracts were screened and assigned one of the following themes: The Midwifery Profession, The Rights of the Woman, Fetal Rights Dominate, and Medicalization of Pregnancy and Childbirth. A tentative gender ethics frame was developed and tested on two articles on abortion, one from Denmark and one from Japan. The protocol facilitated the gender analysis of ethical dilemmas related to abortion, which were related to the imbalance of power relations in health care. In the final step, we synthesized the dimensions of gender and power in a gender ethics model for midwifery.
The gender ethics protocol developed revealed gendered dimensions of ethical dilemmas in midwifery. This gender analysis adds to the understanding of the “do no harm” principle by revealing assumptions and stereotypes that promote unequal power relations. The gender ethics model is an innovative approach that envisions and exposes power imbalance at the micro, meso, and macro levels.
The protocol could improve gender competence among researchers, midwives/professionals, and midwifery students throughout the world.