'Giving birth in rural Malawi: perceptions, power and decision- making in a matrilineal community

Barber, Gillian Doreen. 2004. 'Giving birth in rural Malawi: perceptions, power and decision- making in a matrilineal community. Post-Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This anthropological study exammes the relationships, influences and power dynanucs
underpinning decisions made around childbearing in a resource-poor subsistence farming
community in southern Malawi.
Local literature and relevant anthropological and technical sources are exan1ined for
childbearing themes, patterns of residence and relatedness, knowledge and power, health
perceptions and risk Methodological and ethical issues are analysed, taking a reflective approach
toward the author's n1idwifery background. The study is founded in the view that understanding
childbearing processes has inherent value for women's wellbeing, but also can contribute insights
into wider social themes and contribute to anthropological debates.
A strongly matrilineal and matrilocal lifestyle is revealed with substantial power
residing with older women. Men are heads of households when resident and responsible for the
welfare of their own matrikin. TIus dynamic is exan1ined indicating that cluldbearing women's
older female matrikin make most decisions, at least for younger women, and men generally
support them.
To understand decision-making, perceptions of health and childbearing, and concepts of
risk are examined. Biomedical ideas are layered with ethnomedical, and local expressions of
morality. Ideas of childbearing risk are grounded in this eclectic view, with biological problems
often linked with causation, and resolution congruent ·with local cosmology. These include
hot/cold imbalance, maintenance of the life-force, adultery in pregnancy, bewitching and pollution
and taboo.
The development and legitimacy of knowledge used to make decisions is exan1ined.
Older women retain control; most young women remaining too ignorant for independent action,
but all ages demonstrate acceptance of the knowledge of the formal health service.
The overall scenario is of generally benevolent control of younger women using a
power base grounded in matrilineal relatedness and eclectic concepts, knowledge and notions of
risk to make childbearing decisions. Choices are however ultimately pragmatic and dependent on
circumstance with neither local concepts nor biomedical ideas prevailing.

Item Type:

Thesis (Post-Doctoral)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Anthropology

Date:

2004

Item ID:

11307

Date Deposited:

21 Feb 2015 12:49

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:07

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/11307

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