PhD Graduates – Klima

Carrie S. Klima, PhD
Spring 2002

“We Are Strong Women: A Focused Ethnography of the Reproductive Lives of Women in Belize”

About the thesis: 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.

Introduction: 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.

Results: 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.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my committee, Olga, Cheryl and Henrietta for their support and guidance with this research. They allowed me to follow my heart, face the challenges of ethnography and were always there when I needed reassurance and direction. I wish to thank my colleagues in the nurse-midwifery program at the Yale School of Nursing. They were my support during coursework, willing research subjects and understood my absences throughout my program of study. My new colleagues at the University of Illinois have supported me through the writing process and had the faith I would finish. Thank you. I also wish to thank Judi, my teacher and friend with whom I began my relationship with the women of Belize. Her support and guidance from the beginning of my nursing education have been instrumental in allowing me to reach this goal. Judi, I promise this is REALLY the last thing I will ask you to do. My family and friends have been patient and understanding of my time and my absences. I look forward to rejoining them all soon. Lastly, I wish to thank my friends and colleagues in Belize for their help, their homes and their time. Without the help of Florene Olgadez, Ediberta Chan Bausta, Nurse G. Heredia, Lorna Perez and Marie Chavarria, I would never have successfully finished this research. My profound gratitude belongs to the women of Belize, who gave me their time and shared their valuable experiences. My hope is that I have done justice to their stories.