Mechanisms for racial separation and inequitable maternal care in hospital maternity wards

Nihaya Daoud, Sirat Abu-Hamad, Alexandra Berger-Polsky, Nadav Davidovitch, Sharon Orshalimy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Few studies have examined mechanisms of racial maternal separation (RMS) of birthing mothers in hospital maternity wards (MWs), and how separation might reinforce institutional healthcare racism and discrimination, leading to inequitable maternal care (MC). In Israel, while birth mothers report mostly pleasant experiences, RMS has become a matter of public debate. Although the Ministry of Health (MoH) condemns the practice, birthing Palestinian-Arab women have sued hospitals for discrimination after being assigned to separate MW rooms from other women. We drew on critical race theory (CRT) and intersectionality to uncover mechanisms for RMS and inequitable MC in hospital MWs at three levels—policy, practice, and women's experiences. In 2019–2020 we conducted 10 in-depth interviews with hospital directors (HDs) and 8 focus groups (FGs) with 40 midwives and nurses; then, in 2020–2021, we held 26 in-depth Zoom interviews with birthing women. Our findings reveal intersecting mechanisms for RMS through which structural racism and institutional discrimination outside hospitals in the form of ethno-racial residential segregation penetrate hospitals via women's requests to maintain separation in MWs. While all HDs opposed RMS and prized quality care, they instituted insufficient mechanisms to prohibit racial separation, which helped to institutionalize the practice. Commodification of Healthcare services (HCS) accelerates RMS as hospitals compete for funds derived from birthing mothers' care. Under the guise of cultural sensitivity and indirect pressure of hospital management, nursing staff comply with requests for RMS. Nurses assigned rooms based on stereotypical categorizations of women's group membership (ethno-national, religiosity level, class). RMS targeted mostly visibly religious Muslim Palestinian-Arab women. These mothers felt MC discrimination; others normalized RMS as preference. While the MoH cannot eliminate outside-hospital structural discrimination, more efforts should be made to eradicate inside-hospital RMS, as the practice violates the principle of universality enshrined in the National Health Insurance Law.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114551
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Health inequality
  • Maternity wards
  • Minority women
  • Racial separation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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