“You Have No Way to Hold Them Back”: Contraception, Childbearing, Sexual Pleasure and Gendered Social Norms in Burkina Faso

Leigh G. Senderowicz , University of Wisconsin-Madison
Nathalie Sawadogo, Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo

The liberatory power of contraception for women has long been a central pillar of the reproductive rights movement. In recent years, demographers have proposed an array of mechanisms to link contraceptive use to women’s empowerment even more broadly, including that delaying first pregnancy helps girls stay in school, and that having fewer children increases women’s labor force participation. This framing of family planning as uniquely empowering, however, fails to grapple with the ways that contraception can be deployed in support of regressive ideologies, not just progressive ones. Commonly associated with the “sexual revolution” and freedom from oppressive patriarchal norms, contraception has just as notably been linked with ideologies of eugenics, scientific racism, and medical misogyny. Yet the complex ways that contraceptive use and childbearing take on social meaning, and the impact of entrenched gender norms on this process have received scant attention from demographers. We use data from 17 focus group discussions in Burkina Faso to examine how gendered norms around childbearing and marriage affect social perceptions of contraceptive use. Using thematic analysis, we find that contraceptive use in the pursuit of sexual pleasure is strongly stigmatized, with this type of user considered “prostitutes” by their peers. In contrast, contraceptive use for family stability (e.g., birth spacing or to satisfy one’s husband) is strongly endorsed. We use these findings to understand how gender norms affect the social perceptions of fertility and contraceptive use, exploring how contraception may be used both to contest as well as to further entrench gendered oppression.

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 Presented in Session 70. Contraception and Reproduction