Home Institution

Northwestern University

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Senegal: National Identity and the Arts


This paper examines how women and health care providers in two distinct Senegalese settings—Dakar and Mouit, a village located within the Gandiol region-- navigate contraception as both a social and medical good. Contraception is an invaluable tool in terms of advancing women’s right to reproductive health, but major discrepancies in its usage exist across a variety of social lines in Senegal, including level of education, marital status, occupation, age, and living in a rural versus urban setting. What socially constructed thought processes and lived experiences contribute to these discrepancies? In a cultural context heavily based upon tradition and Islamic faith, and in a state still feeling the effects of colonialism, how do issues of contraception (both biomedical and ethnomedical) manifest in popular discourse and social understanding? These broad questions of course could never be fully answered over the limited course of this project. In an effort to scratch the surface, however, I sought to hear the narratives of Senegalese women pertaining to the different social systems around them and how they influence their attitudes and opinions about contraception. I conducted twenty structured interviews overall: in Dakar four with health care providers and six with women of the general public, and in Mouit three with health care providers and seven with women of the general public. I also spent time observing in health facilities in both environments to contextualize how health care functions at the service level in Senegal. I found that while very positive dialogues surrounding family planning and birth spacing using biomedical methods of contraception exist in Senegal, this mainstream discourse largely excludes an existing population of sexually active unmarried women as well as women whose husbands do not approve of family planning. Ethnomedical methods of contraception are known, but were not practiced by any individuals that I interviewed. Although these methods were reportedly less trusted and less practiced, for the most part they were also reported to have the same social determinants as biomedical methods—marriage, husband approval, and the desire to protect women from the medical and social consequences of pregnancy.


African Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Gender and Sexuality | Health Policy | Health Psychology | Marriage and Family Therapy and Counseling | Maternal and Child Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Health


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