'Resisting Reproduction: An Anthropological Analysis of Unsafe Abortion in a Rural Ghanaian Village'.
Webster, Nicole Jane
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Unsafe abortion claims the lives of thousands of women every year. Globally, it is the women in Sub-Saharan Africa who face the highest risk of death and injury from abortion-related complications (Ahman & Shah 2011, p.123). Current global and national efforts to reduce incidences of unsafe abortion are ineffective in the rural Ghanaian community where this research was undertaken. This anthropological examination of key aspects of contemporary local social practice and the norms and customs which underpin it, demonstrates the necessity for many local women to utilise a dangerous plant to facilitate potentially fatal self-induced abortions as their primary means of resisting culturally-defined fertility patterns. This thesis is broadly structured around anthropologists’ Scheper-Hughes’ and Lock’s (1987, p.6) concept of three intersectional bodily perspectives: the phenomenological individual body-self, the social body and the body as an artefact of political control. The reader is offered insight from each of these perspectives into the social practice of unsafe abortion in the lives of rural Ghanaian women. I argue that unsafe abortion can be seen as a kind of social struggle against the local economic mode of production. The thesis provides an analysis of the position of many women within local relations of production from a neo-Marxist perspective which has been modified by concepts of class and exploitation particular to pre-industrialist societies. The modifications are taken from the theoretical positions of French anthropologists Terray (1975), Meillassoux (1972) and P.P Rey (1975). In addition, following the work of critical medical anthropologist Scheper-Hughes (1993), the thesis demonstrates the ways in which medical discourses and policy output about family planning and reproductive health which are produced and reproduced at the level of the national body politic, obscure more deeply embedded powerful ideologies and social praxis about female sexuality and reproduction which is produced and reproduced at the level of the social body within the context of popular interpretations of tradition and customary law. Ultimately, I argue that current Programmes of Action aimed at reducing incidences of unsafe abortion fail to address patterns of gender violence and patriarchal control by medicalising some village women’s social suffering.