Class Year

2016

Document Type

Thesis

Honors Designation

Honors

Department

Women's Studies

Primary Advisor

Meika Loe

Second Advisor (if necessary)

Lavinia Nicolae

Abstract

From a young age, I have been interested in health and how health affects various bodies within different spaces. More so, I am interested in how medical systems silences, rather than empowers the patients that it treats. This thesis focuses on various aspects of women’s health, specifically birth and pregnancy, within the context of post-apartheid South Africa. More particularly, this paper highlights the birth and pregnancy experiences of six women in Langa Township, Cape Town and how these women embody crucial knowledge to understanding South Africa's healthcare system. South Africa’s progressive constitution established new rights across various identities, including the implementation of healthcare for previously disenfranchised bodies. Though the constitution grants free healthcare to women, women still face multiple barriers in receiving maternal health in regards to affordability, accessibility and quality of care. Much scholarly research has been conducted surrounding issues of maternal health in South Africa; however, little academic research has used a feminist framework and an interdisciplinary narrative approach to explore these issues. Moreover, little attention has been given to the lived realities of the women who navigate South Africa’s healthcare system. In this paper, I address my standpoint as a white woman from the United States by sharing my own mother’s health narrative in order to center her health experience. Paralleling this concept, I center the conversations I had with six women who live in Langa to be the knowers and tellers of their own pregnancy and birth stories. This work seeks to assess how these women’s pregnancy and birth experiences play out in the framework of a country with purportedly progressive women’s health rights. From the six narratives, themes emerged in regards to upbringing, the context of South Africa, and pregnancy and birth experiences. In an attempt to address these themes, I further analyze unexpected costs, traveling for care, silences surrounding knowledge, perceived and received care, and the medicalization of birth. This paper highlights how these women’s maternal health experiences are highly politicized and gendered within the larger context of South Africa.

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