A comparative study on motherhood and pregnancy strategies. The influence of cultural perceptions and local practices of motherhood on pregnancy strategies in Dehradun (North-India) and the Harpan Valley (Nepal)
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Summary In numerous societies, when a woman does not achieve the status of motherhood, it is perceived as a failure because the woman fails to meet the gender role expectations (Daniluck, 1998:159). Motherhood is due to its cultural implications, a fascinating social concept. We believe motherhood is locally constructed, but internalized by men and women as something biological and therefore neutral. In our opinion, mothers’ behaviour is heavily influenced by gender expectations. The foundation of these expectations lies within the cultural perceptions of motherhood. We set out to explore the cultural perceptions of motherhood in Dehradun (Northern India) and the Harpan Valley (Nepal) and this is a comparative research. Based on our findings we hope to discover similarities and differences in these locations. From different literature (Acharya & Rimal, 2009; Raheja & Gold, 1994) we notice a certain attitude towards women and mothers in Nepal and India. Many times they are portrayed as submissive, powerless and voiceless. Rather looking at powerlessness, we want to find out how these women use their position as a mother to exert their own will. Our aim is to illustrate how cultural perceptions on motherhood become internalized and how this influences the undertaken pregnant strategies. We intend to approach motherhood as a structure and as an overarching construct for the concepts reproduction, pregnancy and birth. Thereby we use Bourdieu’s refinement and use of the notion of the concept habitus and “(…) he describes (…) ‘structure’; a ‘way of being’ or a ‘habitual state’” (Jenkins, 2000:76). This structure comprises women’s leeway when they make decisions considering pregnancy and birth. To investigate these elements we have formulated the following main research questions: What are the cultural perceptions and local practices of motherhood in Dehradun (Northern India) and the Harpan Valley (Nepal), and how do these views influence pregnancy strategies? In total, we spend ten weeks in our research area. During our fieldwork, we implemented different qualitative methods and techniques in order to obtain data. The structure of our thesis is built upon the use of different theories and concepts. We start with a chapter on Feminist Anthropology. From there onwards, are Bourdieu’s habitus (1977), Gidden’s agency (1979) and Schrijvers’ (1985), Den Uyl’s (1992), and Holten’s (2007) intake on motherhood explored. After our theoretical framework, we amplify our empirical findings. We both write a chapter on motherhood and one on pregnancy strategies. The last chapter contains our conclusion/discussion wherein we compare our research findings. We know, through Feminist Anthropology, gender is embedded in the cultural perceptions of a society. These perceptions form a way in which women should behave according to social script. Gender is a part of identity that exists in relation to another, an identity vis-à-vis the “Other”. According to us, a mother’s partner, family, and in-laws are important actors during a decision making process throughout pregnancy. Networks are important during pregnancy because it enriches social capital. The social relations and relations of a mother are not only influenced by a person’s behaviour but also by cultural notions and cultural expectations (Juschka, 2001:46). When a woman fails in achieving the role of motherhood, this disturbs her awareness of herself, since the failure to reproduce embodies a failure to meet gender role expectations (Daniluck, 1998:159). These gender role expectations become internalized and a part of “subjective self”. Bourdieu presupposes that habitus is an “internalized social” and the “social embodied”. This concept explains how people act, feel, behave, decide, think etcetera. Since everybody acts on their own habitus, there is space for people to move in and behave vis-à-vis the local doxa. This space is what we call “leeway”. We want to find out which pregnancy strategies our informants use under the full understanding of their local doxa and their habitus. Agency and structure exists in conjunction with one another (Giddens, 1979:65). We try to comprehend the decisions women make concerning their pregnant body in context of the local gender discourse on motherhood. During our field and data analysis we discovered different stages in our informants’ lives. We make a division between ‘being a girl’, ‘married life’ and ‘motherhood’. We focused on these three stages; however there are always more stages and variables to consider. After all, everything is connected and an on-going process. Between the different stages there are two rites the passages. Between ‘being a girl’ and ‘married life’ is marriage itself. In India and Nepal women are wed by arranged marriages and after the wedding day the new bride moves in met her family in-law. Between the stages ‘married life’ and ‘motherhood’ lays pregnancy and birth. Throughout these stages the nurturing kind of women is emphasized and this attitude intensifies after every rite the passage. Such gender ideology is based upon the biological determinism which legitimizes this kind of division of labour (Schrijvers, 1985:118). Women, pregnant or not, compile to the gender division of labour within the household to obtain the social capital they need during pregnancy. To conclude, we found several similarities and some differences. In general, the consensus about pregnancy lies between the domains “women” and “medication” which can be seen as collaboration between the private and the public sphere. We both encountered two important strategies. Firstly, pregnant women are advised not to lift heavy objects. Secondly, pregnant women and their families focus on eating healthy nutrients. We faced two differences; the access to medical facilities and the focus on the importance of religion. Where Lalma’s informants have easier access to hospitals, Dieuwertje informants faced more obstacles to get medical advice. Networks, using networks as a strategy, are crucial during pregnancy. To have a network means to have more knowledge and more social capital (Brand, 2001:25). Networks are based on reciprocity “rules”. Networks built social capital, but it can also form a structure wherefrom expectations arise. Motherhood can be considered as a structure for women constructed by others and themselves. Women are agents within this constructed concept. Nevertheless, this agency is influenced by the outer social (Giddens, 1979). Therefore, mothers are not submissive but always in dialogue with their surroundings.