Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Responsible Mothers, Anxious Women: Contraception and Neoliberalism in Morocco

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Responsible Mothers, Anxious Women: Contraception and Neoliberalism in Morocco

Article excerpt

Dressed in a white lab coat and black hijab, Amal sat behind her desk in the counseling room of a clinic that specializes in reproductive and maternal healthcare located just outside Rabat, Morocco. Amal was not only the sole counselor who checked in patients and updated their charts, but she was also the clinic director, responsible for overseeing both medical services and administration. I sat across from her, behind her hung a piece of cardboard with various methods of contraception taped to it. As she gestured to it, I asked what was the most popular method for women who came to this clinic, which is tucked away in a working-class neighborhood. She explained that oral contraception (referred to as la pilule)1 is the most popular because it is "easy" and "private" for women, requiring fewer trips to the doctor for supplies and care. Even though Amal and I spoke in a mix of Moroccan Arabic and French, she made sure I understood her point by saying "number one"2 in English and pointing with her index ^nger. By using the birth control pill, women can control their own fertility as long as they remember to take it each day. Amal said they only need to see the doctor once a year for a well-woman exam and make a trip to the clinic every three months for new cycles of pills. (Patients may purchase up to three months' worth of birth control pills on any visit to the clinic.)

As of 2008, approximately sixty-three percent of Moroccan women of childbearing age are using one method of contraception or another.3 Global and community health scholars o^en break contraception down into two categories. Modern contraception includes those methods that are prescribed by a physician or should be carried out under the care of a trained medical professional, including oral contraceptives, the intrauterine device (IUD), and injections. In contrast, traditional contraception refers to practices such as herbal remedies, coitus interruptus, abstinence, prolonged breast-feeding, post-partum taboos, and the rhythm method. As in Amal's clinic, the most popular modern method of contraception in Morocco is the birth control pill followed by the IUD. Both methods are widely available in clinics and hospitals, and women can purchase the pill without doctor's orders in pharmacies across the country.

Andrew Russell and Mary Thompson suggest "contraceptives are important new technological 'facts' on the global stage. However, just as importantly they are mental 'conceptions.'"4 Methods of contraception "do not just 'work,' they work in bodies in a wide variety of perceived ways"5 and are both medical practices and social constructions. My goal in this article is to show that for the working-class female participants I observed and interviewed in Rabat, birth control is a material means through which they express their doubts about the future of their country and their children. I pose that part of their anxiety stems from changing constructions of feminine citizenship that have accompanied new development initiatives. Some prior scholarship on Morocco has argued that women's citizenship hinges upon their ability to give birth, ideally to several children. For example, in her study of family planning among rural women in southern Morocco, Rahma Bourqia argues that birth defines women's existence both psychologically and socially. She discovered that poorer women in her sample were very apprehensive about accepting family planning because limiting the number of children in their households would be detrimental to their roles in society. Moreover, parents expect their children to take care of them when they grow older. Bourqia writes, "The most important investment and capital for women is to have children."6 Also, Vanessa Maher suggests that because a Moroccan woman tends to have children over a long period of time, "there are always children around her, dependent on her for care and attention and greatly reducing her mobility. So it is that most of her activities must be carried out within a severely circumscribed space. …

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