"We are strong women": A focused ethnography of the reproductive lives of women in Belize

Date of Completion

January 2002


Health Sciences, Nursing




Belize is a small country in Central America with a unique heritage. The cultural pluralism found in Belize provides an opportunity to explore the cultures of the Maya, Mestizo and the Caribbean. Women in Belize share this cultural heritage as well as the reproductive health issues common to women throughout the developing world. The experiences of unintended pregnancy, contraceptive use and abortion were explored with women using a feminist ethnographic framework. Key informants, participant observations, secondary data sources and individual interviews provided rich sources of data to examine the impact of culture in Belize upon the reproductive lives of women. Data were collected over a two-year period and analyzed using QSRNudist qualitative data analysis software. ^ Analysis revealed that regardless of age, ethnicity or educational background, women who found themselves pregnant prior to marriage experienced marriage as a fundamental cultural norm in Belize. Adolescent pregnancy often resulted in girls' expulsion from school and an inability to continue with educational goals. Within marriage, unintended pregnancy was accepted but often resulted in more committed use of contraception. All women had some knowledge and experience with contraception, although some were more successful than others in planning their families. Couples usually made decisions together regarding when to use contraception, however misinformation regarding safety and efficacy was prevalent. While abortion is illegal, most women had knowledge of abortion practices and some had personal experiences with self induced abortions using traditional healing practices common in Belize. ^ Belizean culture is evolving as Belize grows and tries to find its place in the global marketplace. Education and employment have created new opportunities for women in Belize. However, these opportunities have resulted in challenges to the traditional roles and culture of families in Belize. Women in Belize enjoy somewhat better health than their geographic and cultural neighbors yet share many of the same concerns for their health and their families. Women strive to obtain quality health services and equality in employment and relationships, and share these struggles with women throughout the developing world. ^