Dying for Life: the Selective Suffering of Women in Liberia

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Angela Nielsen
Despite over a century’s worth of knowledge that exists on how to prevent maternal mortality in reasonably simple and inexpensive ways, women in developing countries are still dying at alarming rates as a result of pregnancy. This begs the question of the role structural violence plays in women continuing to face this risk, as it seems that governments are not prioritising implementing the measures required for improving maternal health care, allowing women to continue to suffer the adverse risks of their biologically natural and fundamentally necessary ability of childbearing that humanity’s existence depends upon. Going beyond the direct causes of health problems, structural violence theory recognises the important role structural factors in society play in determining the victims of suffering, offering a perspective on health problems that sees much suffering as selective. Structural factors embedded in society must thus be addressed and overcome to diminish the effect a person’s position in society has on their degree of suffering. Focusing on Liberia as a case study, this thesis uses the theories of structural violence and gender and development to assess the roles women’s subordinate position and poverty play on the high risk women have suffering maternal mortality, and whether the government of Liberia appears to be committed to overcoming the structural barriers women face, or is essentially reinforcing it. Liberia’s most recent development policies and strategies concerning maternal health are primarily used for the analysis, but interviews I conducted in Liberia in March 2008 with two representatives of health institutions in Liberia further aid the analysis. While the Liberian government clearly acknowledges in its recent maternal health strategies that indirect factors do put women at an increased risk of maternal mortality, efforts to overcome them do not seem comprehensive enough, leaving women’s risk of suffering to be determined in particular by their wealth, the knowledge they have, or where they reside. Most troubling, is the lack of strategies challenging the underlying structures of women’s subordinate position, showing a lack of understanding and commitment to improving the lives of women, ultimately undervaluing women’s health and reinforcing structural violence against women. Consequently, it is likely maternal health will struggle to improve in the country, as the position of women will maintain women’s vulnerability to maternal mortality.
Publication date2008
Number of pages74
Publishing institutionAalborg University
ID: 16338495