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Unmarried women's ways of facing single motherhood in Sri Lanka: a qualitative interview study
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Women's and Children's Health, International Maternal and Child Health (IMCH). (Internationell sexuell och reproduktiv hälsa/Larsson)
Department of Community Medicine, Sri Jayawardenepura University, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Women's and Children's Health. (Internationell sexuell och reproduktiv hälsa/Larsson)
2013 (English)In: BMC Women's Health, ISSN 1472-6874, E-ISSN 1472-6874, Vol. 13, 5- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: In Sri Lanka, motherhood within marriage is highly valued. Sex out of wedlock is socially unacceptable and can create serious public health problems such as illegal abortions, suicide and infanticide, and single motherhood as a result of premarital sex is considered shameful. The way unmarried women facing single motherhood reflect on and make use of their agency in their social environments characterised by limited social and financial support has consequences for the health and well-being of both themselves and their children. The aim of this study was to explore and describe how unmarried women facing single motherhood in Sri Lanka handle their situation. Methods: This qualitative study comprised semi-structured interviews with 28 unmarried pregnant women or single mothers. The data were analysed by qualitative content analysis and the results related to the conceptual framework of social navigation. Results: The women facing single motherhood expressed awareness of having trespassed norms of sexuality through self-blame, victimhood and obedience, and by considering or attempting suicide. They demonstrated willingness to take responsibility for becoming pregnant before marriage by giving the child up for adoption, bringing up the child themselves, claiming a father for their child, refraining from marriage in the future, permanently leave their home environment, and taking up employment. Throughout the interviews, the women expressed fear of shame, and striving for familial and societal acceptance and financial survival. Conclusions: A social environment highly condemning of unmarried motherhood hindered these women from making strategic choices on how to handle their situation. However, to achieve acceptance and survival, the women tactically navigated norms of femininity, strong family dependence, a limited work market, and different sources of support. Limited access to resources restricted the women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, including their ability to make acceptable and healthy choices for themselves and their children.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 13, 5- p.
Keyword [en]
Single motherhood, Unmarried mothers, Qualitative interviews, Social navigation, Sri Lanka
National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-200448DOI: 10.1186/1472-6874-13-5ISI: 000317722100001OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-200448DiVA: diva2:623800
Available from: 2013-05-28 Created: 2013-05-28 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Living Up to the Ideal of Respectability: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Implications for Unmarried Migrant Workers, Single Mothers, and Women in Prostitution in Sri Lanka
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Living Up to the Ideal of Respectability: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Implications for Unmarried Migrant Workers, Single Mothers, and Women in Prostitution in Sri Lanka
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis aims to gain a deeper understanding of relationships and sexuality of women at risk of social exclusion in Sri Lanka and the risk of violations of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that they might face. Individual qualitative interviews with migrant women workers (n=18) and men (n=18) in the Free Trade Zone (FTZ), women facing single motherhood (n=28) and women formerly involved in prostitution (n=15) were conducted. Conceptual approaches included gender, social navigation and SRHR. The interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis, qualitative content analysis and discourse analysis. Findings revealed that the migrant women workers negotiated norms of respectability in a society that highly stigmatizes FTZ women workers, while the men identified conflicting constructions of masculinity existing in the FTZ. The women facing single motherhood navigated oppressive and stigmatizing social forces, and the women in prostitution constructed themselves as respectable in opposition to their societal disvalue and marginalization. In order to retain an image of sexual innocence, unmarried women are likely to refrain from demanding or demonstrating SRHR knowledge and accessing services. Furthermore, gender power imbalances leave the women vulnerable to sexual persuasion, coercion and violence. Once pregnant, social, legal, and knowledge barriers hinder or delay them in accessing abortion services. Unmarried pregnant women are thus left with the alternatives of adoption, infanticide, and suicide or become stigmatized single mothers with risks of health and social exclusion for mother and child. Extreme marginalization and limited power make women in prostitution vulnerable to unsafe sex, rape and violence. In conclusion, these women are likely to face numerous and serious SRHR hazards. The complexity of gendered social circumstances and the SRHR implications demonstrated in this thesis, add to the SRHR knowledge in Sri Lanka, and should inform politicians and policy makers about the need to improve the situation of all women in Sri Lanka.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2014. 78 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Medicine, ISSN 1651-6206 ; 989
Keyword
Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Free Trade Zone, gender relations, social navigation, unmarried women, migrant women workers, masculinity, single mothers, women in prostitution, qualitative interviews, Sri Lanka
National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-221584 (URN)978-91-554-8924-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-05-23, Auditorium Minus, Akademigatan 3, 75310 Uppsala, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2014-04-29 Created: 2014-04-02 Last updated: 2014-06-30Bibliographically approved

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Jordal, MalinOlsson, Pia

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