Common patterns in sexual and reproductive health emerge across Core countries
Women are central to their families. Motherhood is hard. Gender norms are strong and restrictive. Although the four Core countries are socially, culturally and economically distinct, qualitative data gathered during the Discover 1 research phase indicates similarities in women’s SRH experiences.
“From the get-go we sensed that although women in the four countries lead distinct lives, there would be broad similarities in their sexual and reproductive health experiences.”
Back from fieldwork, Priyam Sharda, Design Research Lead for Core, had worked with Core’s research team to sift through and synthesise the vast amounts of data and information collected. Slowly, an overall picture was beginning to emerge.
“We were surprised at how many experiences were shared. Women we met across the Core countries, often shared similar attitudes and traits when it came to health and wellbeing. For instance, a largely passive and reactive approach to health was common, and any preventative measures were rarely in place. Women also often repeated that giving birth was a cause for joy, but also marked the start of the toughest time in their lives. They also commonly expressed a tendency to play down their own needs, limiting them to only those not seen as overtaking the needs of those around her.”
Sharda and the team took to documenting and compiling the cross-cutting themes. “The findings were very helpful, as they could be referenced and explored further in the second Discover phase, and subsequent project work.”
Core’s Discover 1 phase was completed through late 2017 to 2018. The information was collected by conducting in-depth interviews and group discussions women, men, health system workers as well as select experts.
The common themes the team identified were as follows:
- Womanhood is an inter-generational and collective construct
Notions of what it means to be a woman are guided by networks of older and younger women that women rely on, or are influenced by, in their lives.
- Gendered socialisation never ends
A strong set of norms are transmitted and taught throughout women’s lifetimes, centred around sexuality and reproduction. Deviations are met with harsh judgement and punishment.
- Motherhood is the toughest time
Marked by the pressures of navigating frequent pregnancies while caring for multiple children and tackling hardship along the way, in addition to keeping up with heavy domestic responsibilities.
- She’s going to school
Across all three countries, there appears to have been a perceptible shift in communities wishing for more education for their girls. Education hence appeared to be a powerful norm-negotiating tool.
- Women are central, yet unseen
Women are deemed central to the wellbeing of their families and are viewed as, and often view themselves, as the glue that holds things together, straddling the realities and needs of those around her.
- Health happens
Health is viewed as being more about eliminating recognisable symptoms that indicate poor or weak health. Symptoms not recognised as such were often ignored or left unaddressed and preventive measures were scarce.
- Information filtering and gate-keeping is common
Dialogue in communities in the three countries indicated that information exists but is withheld from women completely or until ‘the time is right’. Furthermore, decisions are often made for her.
- Sexual and reproductive health dialogue and language is limited
There is no active dialogue or approachable language for sexual and reproductive health issues. Such topics rely on cultural cues, tools and taboos to aid information sharing; for instance, with menstruation.
- Men’s view on women’s lives is important
Men hold a fair amount of knowledge of women’s sexual and reproductive health needs, even though they may not consider it to be their domain. This is often because they control family budgets and need to approve spending on women’s needs.
Sharda looks forward to using this information in our work:
“While these commonalities do not necessarily represent new knowledge, they are important in that they reveal universal patterns. They demonstrate potentially interesting interconnected dimensions or lenses, which can be used to inform the subsequent phases of the project.”