Birgit Kvernflaten: Reinforcing marginality? Maternal health interventions in rural Nicaragua

In Anthropology & Medicine, 2017


To achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 on maternal health, many countries have focused on marginalized women who lack access to care. Promoting facility-based deliveries to ensure skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care has become a main measure for preventing maternal deaths, so women who opt for home births are often considered ‘marginal’ and in need of targeted intervention. Drawing upon ethnographic data from Nicaragua, this paper critically examines the concept of marginality in the context of official efforts to increase institutional delivery amongst the rural poor, and discusses lack of access to health services among women living in peripheral areas as a process of marginalization.

The promotion of facility birth as the new norm, in turn, generates a process of ‘re-marginalization’, whereby public health officials morally disapprove of women who give birth at home, viewing them as non-compliers and a problem to the system. In rural Nicaragua, there is a discrepancy between the public health norm and women's own preferences and desires for home birth. These women live at the margins also in spatial and societal terms, and must relate to a health system they find incapable of providing good, appropriate care. Strong public pressure for institutional delivery makes them feel distressed and pressured. Paradoxically then, the aim of including marginal groups in maternal health programmes engenders resistance to facility birth.

Published June 30, 2017 1:07 PM - Last modified Dec. 3, 2018 12:08 PM