This week, my students and I have been exploring birth maintenance, specifically in southern Africa, and the introduction of modern contraceptives to the continent. The history of contraceptives in southern Africa is heavily racialized, in large part because the way white governmental officials introduced it suggested to Africans (with some real basis in fact, by the way) that contraceptives were part of a larger genocidal plot to prevent Africans from reproducing. (This has created enormous problems for erstwhile AIDS advocates who try to push condoms on a population that suspects it is just one more way to introduce the HIV virus into the African population…)
Anyway, there is a lot more to be said about that but one of the interesting findings by researchers is that the statement “developmentÂ is the best birth control” has not been trueÂ in Africa. Though there has been a fertility decline in southern Africa, it can be attributed to education, even primary educationÂ (more education=fewer children), improved child mortality rates, and, paradoxically, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But what I found most interesting in this week’s readings was how infertility makes women invisible, even to western researchers who are studying fertility. Why? Because of assumptions that western researchers carry with them when they go to the field.Â I quote from Rebecca L. Upton, “‘Infertility Makes You Invisible’:Gender, Health and the Negotiation of Fertility in Northern Botswana,” The Journal of Southern African Studies 27.2 (June 2001): 349-362.
“Several studies of infertility in Africa raise the question of how demographic discourse has constructed arguments and operated under the cultural logic that women are wont to ‘overproduce’ children-that ‘natural fertility’ is always high and presumed to be out of control. But extension, if within the terms of one’s cultural logic it is assumed that high fertility is bad and low fertility is good, then no fertility must be even better and not worthy of investigation as it is not problematic” (353).
Wow, it’s amazing how short-sighted we can be to other people’s pain!