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Feminization and Stigmatization of Infertility in Malawi
Graduate Institute Publications
Date de publication
eCahiers de l’Institut

Feminization and Stigmatization of Infertility in Malawi

Graduate Institute Publications

eCahiers de l’Institut


  • Aide EAN13 : 9782940600168
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The World Health Organization defines infertility as the inability to conceive
after 12 months of regular and unprotected sex (WHO, 1975). Despite research
that has shown that 50 per cent of infertility cases can be attributed to the
male partner, in many societies the blame is cast on the woman, her voice
silenced, and any action taken by the man deemed justifiable. Infertility
affects millions of people across Sub-Saharan Africa, and in a socio-cultural
context where children are valued as a source of wealth for the family,
perceived infertility can result in neglect, abuse, marital instability,
banishment, discrimination and social stigma (Barden-O’Fallon, 2005). The
topic of infertility is often considered to be a taboo subject, with women
being accused of witchcraft, prior abortions or prostitution. Malawi is a
small country in Central-East Africa, bordered by Tanzania and Mozambique,
with a population of 18 million, 85 percent of which resides in rural areas.
Similarly to other countries in the region, fertility is highly desired and
valued. Malawi’s total fertility rate (TFR) has declined over the years, but
still sits relatively high, at 5.49 children per woman as of 2017 (Index
Mundi, 2018). In demographic discourse, this declining fertility rate is often
celebrated as a sign of the country moving towards a more industrialized
economic system. However, this rhetoric on demographic transition
invisibilizes the social and psychological consequences of infertility,
experienced in varying contexts. This thesis will examine the social
stigmatization and feminization of infertility in Malawi, and specifically how
stigma is understood and managed in the context of socio-cultural perceptions
of infertility, within the local ecology of Malawi, as well as its effect on
lived experiences and gender identities. Data was collected from four
participant groups – infertile women, religious leaders, health workers, and
community members through interviews, discussion groups, and informal
conversation. The empirical findings demonstrate that infertility does not
exist solely as a biological or physiological condition, requiring a
biomedical approach, but rather encompasses emotional, social, cultural,
religious and economic spheres. As such, the approach to infertility response
must also include these spheres, focusing not only on preventive measures but
also addressing stigma, patriarchal structures, gender inequality, poverty,
and sexual and reproductive health knowledge. We extend our heartfelt thanks
to the Vahabzadeh Foundation for financially supporting the publication of
best works by young researchers of the Graduate Institute, giving a priority
to those who have been awarded academic prizes for their master’s
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