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No Woman No Cry

June 12, 2010

Although maternal deaths worldwide have been on the decline for the last decade, more than 340,000 still occur each year.

In the United States, we have our own shameful statistics: we rank 41st in the world in maternal mortality, despite spending more than any other country on health care. Black women are more than three times as likely (PDF) to die due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth. Low-quality obstetric care is an important reason why; poverty, racism, environmental stressors, all contribute. (C.f. Leith Mullings, Stress and Resilience: The Social Context of Reproduction in Central Harlem.)

Former model Christy Turlington Burns was almost part of the maternal mortality statistic when she suffered complications after the birth of her first child. Luckily, she survived, and was driven to learn more about maternal mortality all over the world. She has produced a documentary, No Woman No Cry, about reproductive health care in an international context:

The documentary focuses on Maasai women in Tanzania, women in a poor and underresourced area in Bangladesh, women in a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala (where unsafe illegal abortions are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality), and women in a prenatal care clinic in the United States.

Having not seen the documentary, I can’t give a thorough review. I think it’s incredibly important to bring reproductive health issues to the forefront of international policy in a way that does not disrespect the cultural contexts of the women who need better access to reproductive health care. It’s important to drive us to action, and also to remind us of the need for constant vigilance with regard to our own access to reproductive health care.

It’s a particularly compelling project because it takes into account the staggering risk the lack of safe and legal abortion poses to women everywhere. This is a hugely underconsidered aspect of maternal mortality, and I’m so glad to see it explored in this film.

Of course, I worry about the kind of anthropological tourism that can occur in these sorts of accounts, as well as the fetishization of people who are considered to be “closer to nature.” From the website, it looks like the documentary team has avoided this, for the most part, and instead focused on the particular hardships in each context and the means women have developed for dealing with them. I hope I’m proven right when I get a chance to see the film.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2010 12:58 PM

    The movie “The Business of Being Born” which also speaks to the shocking statistics of maternal and infant mortality in the context of the business of health care. It’s shocking to see what hospitals are doing to save time and money, definitely at the cost of mothers and children. The documentary is really engaging and empowering. You even get to see Ricki Lake giving birth to her second child.

    • Jill permalink
      June 20, 2010 10:12 AM

      Allie–I’ve been meaning to see The Business of Being Born. I don’t know if you ever took Ethnography of Reproduction, but that class just totally blew my mind as we discussed the total lack of medical indication for so many procedures during pregnancy and childbirth. Yikes.

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