University of Technology Sydney

92382 Power, Politics and Midwifery

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2020 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Health
Credit points: 6 cp

Subject level:


Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.


This subject focuses on the intersection of gender (the cultural construction of femininity and masculinity), power and the sociopolitical contexts of childbearing. Students examine midwifery from a feminist perspective and identify historical and current gender-based issues that impact on the profession and therefore on childbearing women. The subject examines historical medicalisation practices and current technological influences in relation to the position women hold in westernised societies.

The subject exposes students to sociopolitical discourses that inform the experience of childbirth for women, families and for midwives. The portrayal of childbearing and midwifery in popular culture provides a platform for students to critically analyse the portrayal of women, birth and mothering in today's society. The subject also provides an overview of the human rights' perspective on childbearing and the care that women have a right to deserve. This also includes the role of consumers in the maternity care sector and how midwives work in partnership with women to advocate for improvements and reform in maternity services.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

Upon successful completion of this subject students should be able to:
A. Apply a feminist perspective to critically analyse the profession of midwifery in regard to identifying and addressing gender-based inequalities (12.1, 12.2)
B. Identify and appraise power structures in the current health and political systems and discuss the influence these have on women, childbearing and in midwifery (12.2)
C. Apply a human rights-based approach to explore the role of the midwife within the broad political agenda of Australia and internationally including the midwives role in sexual and reproductive health services (1.1, 1.4, 7.2, 11.1)
D. Examine and defend the role of the woman in the politics of maternity care and provide commentary on how advocacy can bring about reforms and health policy change. (12.2)
E. Appraise the use of popular culture to better understand the construction of the power and politics of childbirth (12.2)

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject also contributes specifically to the following graduate attributes:

  • Practise woman-centred care (1.0)
  • Are professionally competent midwives who provide safe and effective midwifery care using intelligent kindness (2.0)
  • Communicate effectively using spoken, written and non-verbal language across a range of contexts and to diverse audiences (2.3)
  • Influence change and contribute to the development of midwifery as a strong profession through leadership, mentoring and positive role modelling (3.1)
  • Are professionally engaged critical thinkers who take a lively and questioning approach and embrace lifelong learning (6.0)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

Woman centred care
In this subject, students will be exposed to the underlying social, political and economic structures that are inherent in midwifery and to advocate for women’s human rights in childbirth. These relationships are often complex and impact on the care provided to women. Students will explore popular media and this influences the experience and expectations of women as they seek and experience care.

Professional Competence
Critical thinking and communication skills be highlighted in the subject especially in relation to legal and ethical challenges and when caring for women who make choices that fall out of conventional guidelines and boundaries. Students will also be exposed to emerging areas that will impact their professional life in the future, including genomics.

Creativity is an essential component of improving midwifery practice and the care of women and newborns. This subject will require students to address political issues in creative ways through a better understanding of the health system and working out ways to bring about change.

This subject will expose students to the broader health system diverse experiences from the perspective of consumers (including stillbirth) and will also highlight the importance of advocacy to ensure the least advantaged women and families have access to the best care. The subject will explore the importance of respectful care and human rights issues in childbirth that especially ensure vulnerable women have quality care.

Teaching and learning strategies

In this subject, students participate in a range of teaching and learning strategies that are designed to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to understand and explore the practice of midwifery with the framework of power, politics and a human rights agenda.

Stories from practice depict people and their families in clinical, community and social situations. Students use these scenarios to learn concepts, interpret information and develop solutions. Students develop critical thinking through analysis, interpretation of and reflection on issues or situations. Students engage specifically with websites and blogs that address the issues of the Human Rights in Childbirth movement, the Respectful Care Movement (White Ribbon Alliance), and Safe Motherhood for all.

Stories will be discussed in class and feedback from the teacher/guest speakers will be provided and interactions and views from peers will be encouraged.

Students access online learning resources including pre-class activities, podcasts, videos, professional and grey literature either prior to, or in place of, face-to-face attendance. Online resources enable students to clarify complex concepts and terminology, and engage with sensitive or confronting topics at their own pace. Online activities are then discussed in class or in an online forum to share learning, experiences and reflections.

Students are exposed to a number of leaders in midwifery as they explore the power and politics of midwifery through podcasts and vodcasts. These leaders are from clinical, professional bodies, policy development and consumer movements. Students are required to listen or watch the interviews and come to class prepared to explore the issues around power, politics and feminism and how these play out in midwifery. An open discusison session in the final class will include a discussion about the perspective of leadership and feedback from the teachers/guest speakers and peers will be provided.

Students have the opportunity to listen to, meet and dialogue with a range of guests, both professional and consumer advocates, who discuss personal and/or professional stories in relation to the subject content and objectives.

Content (topics)

Feminism and midwifery
• The role of equity and equality in maternity care
• Power structures in the current health and political systems and the influence these have on women, childbearing and in midwifery
• Understanding of how midwives fit into the political world of maternity care, and the role that they have to play in advocating for women and bringing about change

Reproductive choices
• Ethical and professional responsibilities when working with women, partners and families
• Pregnancy choices – legal and ethical issues
• The rights of the woman over the rights of the fetus
• Women who refuse care or choose care outside usual guidelines

The power and politics of reproductive rights and maternity care
• The role of the midwife in the broad political agenda in Australia and internationally
• Human rights issues and perspectives in childbirth
• History and use of advocacy to bring about reform in maternity services –listening to the voice of women
• Power and gender politics in popular culture

Motherhood and fatherhood in modern society
• Contested meanings of birth
• Society’s beliefs and values on birth and mothering




This assessment piece provides an opportunity for students to engage with the politics of the health system and wider community. Advocating to a MP or Minister of Health is an authentic activity as we expect health professionals such as midwives to be able to lobby and advocate for quality care for women. This is an opportunity to demonstrate woman centred care as well as respecting diversity.

This is a formative assessment. Early feedback will be provided.


This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

B and D

This assessment task contributes to the development of graduate attribute(s):

1.0, 2.0 and 3.1

Type: Report
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 20%

No more than 400 words and the letter should fit on one page (with letterhead and proper beginning and ending as would be conventional in a letter).



This assessment piece provides students with an opportunity to expand on the issue they wrote the brief letter about and further demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the structures within the current health and political systems and the influence these have on women, childbearing and in midwifery.


This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

B, C, D and E

This assessment task contributes to the development of graduate attribute(s):

1.0, 2.0 and 6.0

Type: Essay
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 50%

Maximum 1500 words plus 10 references



Students will demonstrate their grasp on the influence of popular culture in childbirth especially the meaning of motherhood and fatherhood. Popular culture is pervasive and pregnant women especially are exposed to so many views and opinions. Understanding how this impacts on their experiences, expectations and decision-making is important. Working in a team is also an authentic activity as most of health care is provided in teams and this activity will enable the members of the team to explore one another’s different views and perspectives while respecting diversity within the group.


This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

A, D and E

This assessment task contributes to the development of graduate attribute(s):

1.0, 2.0, 2.3 and 3.1

Type: Presentation
Groupwork: Group, group assessed
Weight: 30%

2000 words

Minimum requirements

Full attendance and participation in face-to-face teaching and learning sessions as well as the online activities is a requirement to pass this subject. Students must inform the subject coordinator by email if they are unable to attend a study day.

If a student is absent, he or she may be required to submit additional material to the lecturer. This material may be a summary of the lectures and readings of the day. Where required, this material is checked by the lecturer as 'satisfactory' or 'not satisfactory' but is not marked and no additional feedback is provided. This work is not counted towards the subject assessment.

Poor attendance may result in failure of the subject.

Recommended texts

Edwards, N., Mander, R. & Murphy-Lawless, J. 2018, Untangling the maternity crisis, Routledge, London.


Bryom, S. & Downe, S. 2015, The roar behind the silence: why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care. Pinter and Martin, London.

Kirkham, M. 2010, The midwife-mother relationship, 2nd edn, Pelgrave Macmillan, London.

MacColl, M.R. 2009. The birth wars. University of Queensland Pres, Brisbane.

Pairman, S., Tracy, S.K., Dahlen, H. & Dixon, L. 2019a, Midwifery: preparation for practice; book 1 4th eds edn, Elsevier Australia.

Pairman, S., Tracy, S.K., Dahlen, H. & Dixon, L. 2019b, Midwifery: preparation for practice; book 2 4th edn, Elsevier, Australia.

Other resources

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Improve your academic and English language skills
Marks for all assessment tasks such as assignments and examinations are given not only for what you write but also for how you write. If you would like the opportunity to improve your academic and English language skills, make an appointment with the HELPS (Higher Education Language & Presentation Support) Service in Student Services.

HELPS (Higher Education Language & Presentation Support)
HELPS provides assistance with English language proficiency and academic language. Students who need to develop their written and/or spoken English should make use of the free services offered by HELPS, including academic language workshops, vacation intensive courses, drop-in consultations, individual appointments and Conversations@UTS ( HELPS staff are also available for drop-in consultations at the UTS Library. Phone (02) 9514 9733

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