The Politics of Motherhood: Maternity and Women's Rights in Twentieth-Century Chile

By Uribe, Jeannine | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Motherhood: Maternity and Women's Rights in Twentieth-Century Chile


Uribe, Jeannine, Nursing History Review


The Politics of Motherhood: Maternity and Women's Rights in Twentieth-Century Chile By Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009) (301 pages, $26.95 paper)

Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney's book examines women's rights in Chile during the 20th century, from the first public health planners' interest in mothers in the early 1900s to the oppression of women by the dictatorship that took over in the early 1970s. This is an interesting book that will attract readers who are interested in women's issues. Although the author limits her analysis to the Chilean situation, she presents issues and provides thought-provoking analysis of women's issues, which may cause the reader to raise new questions about the effect of political actions on women's lives in any culture.

Nurses and public health workers may concentrate on Chapter 2, examining the author's arguments of how motherhood is connected to "global progress, economic development, and political stability" (p. 69). Health care workers will be especially interested in the author's analysis of programs for mothers, including family planning, which ranged from the intention to decrease maternal morbidity to the necessity of limiting overpopulation and modernization. The author holds that politicians and physicians who controlled government funding for health programs viewed mothers as an entity rather than as women or as individuals with rights. Policy makers pushed motherhood as part of the national agenda, passing legislation that is drafted to "help" women and the nation. However, in many instances, women's health care policies placed limits on women's rights and decreased individual choice.

This book provides an interesting review of the global fear of population explosion during the Cold War and explores the actions of the United States and Chilean physician and political leaders who promoted the need for controlling birth rates by placing the burden on women. Government agencies, politicians, and physicians manipulated the promotion of birth control in the name of national development rather than as a right of women and experimented with birth control methods without informed consent. Abortion is threaded throughout several chapters as a prime example of the lack of attention to the women's choices for controlling family size. Mooney examines class issues, negotiation, and politics as well as other concepts that intercepted and intersected women's rights in Chile.

Chapter 1, in particular, is a thought-provoking look at what the author refers to as "managed motherhood," referring to legislation and policies that attempted to correct high infant mortality rates by guiding the mothers with scientific information (p. 19). Those who work with women and children do not evaluate the need for social programs and health education in the same light as the author, who presents the programs as hiding the true nature of the problem of gender inequality (p. …

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