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BACKGROUND: Every woman has the right to dignified, respectful care during childbirth. Recent evidence has demonstrated that globally many women experience mistreatment during labour and childbirth in health facilities, which can pose a significant barrier to women attending facilities for delivery and can contribute to poor birth experiences and adverse outcomes for women and newborns. However there is no clear consensus on how mistreatment of women during childbirth in facilities is defined and measured. We propose using a two-phased, mixed-methods study design in four countries to address these research gaps. This protocol describes the Phase 1 qualitative research activities. METHODS/DESIGN: We will employ qualitative research methodologies among women, healthcare providers and administrators in the facility catchment areas of two health facilities in each country: Ghana, Guinea, Myanmar and Nigeria. In-depth interviews (IDIs) and focus group discussions (FGDs) will be conducted among women of reproductive age (15-49 years) to explore their perceptions and experiences of facility-based childbirth care, focused on how they were treated by healthcare workers and perceived factors affecting how they were treated. IDIs will also be conducted with healthcare providers of different cadres (e.g.: nurses, midwives, medical officers, specialist obstetricians) and facility administrators working in the selected facilities to explore healthcare providers' perceptions and experiences of facility-based childbirth care and how staff are treated, colleagues and supervisors. Audio recordings will be transcribed and translated to English. Textual data will be analysed using a thematic framework approach and will consist of two levels of analysis: (1) conduct of local analysis workshops with the research assistants in each country; and (2) line-by-line coding to develop a thematic framework and coding scheme. DISCUSSION: This study serves several roles. It will provide an in-depth understanding of how women are treated during childbirth in four countries and perceived factors associated with this mistreatment. It will also provide data on where and how an intervention could be developed to reduce mistreatment and promote respectful care. The findings from this study will contribute to the development of tools to measure the prevalence of mistreatment of women during facility-based childbirth.