"I no 'fraid for that": Pregnancy, risk, and development in southern Belize

by Maraesa, Aminata, Ph.D., NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, 2009, 536 pages; 3365716


This dissertation examines the interactions of reproductive development initiatives, local maternity services and service providers, and pregnant women in the Toledo District of southern Belize where competing assessments of maternal risk, local interpretations of global health paradigms, and the cultural attitudes and beliefs surrounding women's bodies form the basis for reproductive decisions. I contextualize the diverse maternity services provided by the Belizean Ministry of Health, local practitioners known as "bush doctors," and village-based "traditional birth attendants" within an ongoing discussion of how culture informs the administration of healthcare, the negotiation of international health initiatives, and the reproductive lives of women.

Recognizing that perinatal complications are the greatest contributors to women's rates of morbidity and mortality in the developing world, international public health and development programs have a long history of training and intervention that targets women's reproductive health and safety. As these statistically motivated initiatives are mapped onto cultural constituencies, individual actors have opportunities for agency which are, nonetheless, structured and constrained by local beliefs of appropriate sexual behavior and gender propriety. By calling attention to the individualized, personal experiences of women in southern Belize, this dissertation highlights the lived reproductive realities within the anonymous statistical categories of maternal health to emphasize how global interventions are recognized by local actors and how the particular socioeconomic conditions, cultural realities, and value systems of the Toledo District shape the statistics upon which international programs are based.

Throughout the dissertation, I analyze how information concerning maternal health and reproductive risk is exchanged and contested to understand how knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth circulates at multiple levels: the global, the local, and the personal. The dissertation analyzes the numerous hierarchical actors at play and their levels of constrained agency when navigating development programs and reproductive policies. It examines the multiplicity of voices represented in health care services and the individual agency of pregnant women and their care providers within the wider institutionalized and cultural understandings of social reproduction. By acknowledging the lived realities of population targets, the global shrinks to the local levels of importance that influence women's reproductive behavior and—ultimately—their lives.

AdvisersRayna Rapp; Emily Martin
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsCultural anthropology; Forensic anthropology; Women's studies
Publication Number3365716

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