Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Women's and Gender Studies
Decolonizing Birth: Women, Traditional Birth Attendants, and Reproductive Justice in Nigeria

One of the supposed dividends of globalization in postcolonial Africa is the adoption of the global maternal health strategy, the safe motherhood initiative, aimed at improving maternal health and reducing maternal mortality. This strategy requires that all birth be attended by skilled birth attendants such as nurses, midwives, and obstetrician-gynecologists medically trained to attend childbirth mostly at healthcare facilities. All non-medical attendants including the traditional birth attendants in Nigeria who rely on generational and indigenous birthing knowledge and experiences are excluded from the safe motherhood initiative. The birthing experiences of Nigerian women who hire the traditional birth attendants for pregnancy and childbirth services are also not made to count. The history of this exclusion of traditional birth attendants and their clients from global maternal health strategy is rooted in the introduction of 'modern' medical birthing methods to African countries during the colonial era, leading to the condemnation and demonization of African indigenous birthing methods. The menace of maternal mortality continues to ravage African countries and Nigeria now has the fourth-highest global maternal mortality ratio. Yet, the suppression of indigenous birthing knowledge for strictly medical methods and numerical approaches for measuring progress in maternal health are prioritized in the safe motherhood initiative. No attention is paid to the potential benefits of traditional birthing methods and women's subjective birthing experiences. Using feminist, womanist, and African indigenous methodologies, this qualitative research explores the indigenous birthing knowledge of traditional birth attendants in Nigeria and the socio-cultural birthing perspectives of their clients, showing how these perspectives allow for more culturally appropriate and locally sustainable maternal health strategies.