Explanations for infertility: The case of women in rural Ghana

Dorcas Ofosu-Budu, Vilma Hänninen


Infertility is a troubling condition for couples, especially for women, in pronatalist cultures. The ways in which infertility is explained have important effects on the stigma associated with childlessness and thus on the suffering it causes. This article explored the explanations for infertility among involuntarily childless women in the North-East and Ashanti regions of Ghana. Thirty infertile married women were interviewed, 15 from each region, by using a semi-structured interview protocol. A phenomenological study design and thematic analysis were used to explore the aetiological explanations of their infertility. The data from the Ashanti region was transcribed verbatim from Twi to English, coded, and analysed into themes unlike the data from the North-East which was already in English. Most of these infertile women attributed their condition to supernatural factors irrespective of their settings, level of education, and religion. They proffered such explanations for conditions for which they could not readily pinpoint causes or when these were for them beyond comprehension. Other explanations of infertility were medical, such as fluid in the ovaries and hormonal imbalance. Moreover, lifestyle factors such as the use of contraceptives or having had an abortion were mentioned. Some women mentioned that the cause of their infertility had not been found. Health professionals should educate women on reproductive health issues.  Counsellors and therapists should educate would-be couples on the possible challenges in marriages, especially concerning childlessness and infertility. Moreover, to reduce stigma, it is essential that the communities are educated on the documented causes of infertility. (Afr J Reprod Health 2021; 25[4]: 142-152).

Full Text:



Boivin J, Bunting L, Collins JA and Nygren KG.

International estimates of infertility prevalence and treatment-seeking: potential need and demand for infertility medical care. Hum Reprod. 2007;22(6):1506–12.

Burns LH and Covington SN. Psychology of infertility.

Infertil Couns. 1999;3–25.

Cousineau TM, Domar AD. Psychological impact of

infertility. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2007;21(2):293–308.

Le Thi Thuy NGA. Social and Psychological Suffering of

Infertile Women: A Study of Conjugal Relations, Stigmatization, Discrimination, and Social Support in Haiphong City, Vietnam. Mahidol University; 2005.

Tabong PT and Adongo PB. Infertility and childlessness:

a qualitative study of the experiences of infertile couples in Northern Ghana. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2013;13(1):72.

Barden-O’Fallon J. Associates of self-reported fertility

status and infertility treatment-seeking in a rural district of Malawi. Hum Reprod. 2005;20(8):2229–36.

Araoye MO. Epidemiology of infertility: social problems

of the infertile couples. West Afr J Med. 2003;22(2):190–6.

Fledderjohann JJ. ‘Zero is not good for me’: implications

of infertility in Ghana. Hum Reprod. 2012;27(5):1383–90.

Ofosu-Budu D and Hanninen V. Living as an infertile

woman: the case of southern and northern Ghana. Reprod Health. 2020;17:1–9.

Tabong PT. Infertility and childlessness: a qualitative

study of the experiences of infertile couples in Northern Ghana. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth [Internet]. 2013;13(1):72. Available from: https://uef.finna.fi/PrimoRecord/pci.medline23517021

McCloskey LA, Williams C and Larsen U. Gender

inequality and intimate partner violence among women in Moshi, Tanzania. Int Fam Plan Perspect. 2005;124–30.

Dyer SJ, Abrahams N, Hoffman M and van der Spuy ZM.

Men leave me as I cannot have children’: women’s experiences with involuntary childlessness. Hum Reprod. 2002;17(6):1663–8.

Mogobe DK. Denying and preserving self: Batswana

women’s experiences of infertility. Afr J Reprod Health. 2005;26–37.

Naab F, Brown R and Heidrich S. Psychosocial health of

infertile Ghanaian women and their infertility beliefs. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2013;45(2):132–40.

Lunenfeld B and Steirteghem A Van. Infertility in the third

millennium: implications for the individual, family and society: condensed meeting report from the Bertarelli Foundation’s second global conference. Hum Reprod Update. 2004;10(4):317–26.

Pool R and Washija NR. Traditional healers STDs and

infertility in northwest Tanzania. 2001;

Winkelman M. Culture and health: Applying medical

anthropology. John Wiley & Sons; 2008.

Bandura A. The self system in reciprocal determinism. Am

Psychol. 1978;33(4):344.

Goffman E. 1963: Stigma: notes on the management of

spoiled identity, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1963;

Usó-Doménech JL and Nescolarde-Selva J. What are

belief systems? Found Sci. 2016;21(1):147–52.

Helman C. Culture, health and illness. 5. painos. London

Hodder Educ. 2007;

Forsyth DR. The functions of attributions. Soc Psychol Q.


Nahar P and Richters A. Suffering of childless women in

Bangladesh: the intersection of social identities of gender and class. Anthropol Med [Internet]. 2011;18(3):327–38. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=67054354&site=ehost-live

Scott MB and Lyman SM. Accounts. Am Sociol Rev.


Donkor AK and Waek BI. Community Involvement and

Teacher Attendance in Basic Schools: The Case of East Mamprusi District in Ghana. Int J Educ Pract. 2018;6(2):50–63.

Service GS. 2010 Population & Housing Census: National

Analytical Report. Ghana Statistics Service; 2013.

Lawson DW and Gibson MA. Polygynous marriage and

child health in sub-Saharan Africa: What is the evidence for harm? Demogr Res. 2018;39: 177–208.

Tabong PT and Adongo PB. Understanding the social

meaning of infertility and childbearing: a qualitative study of the perception of childbearing and childlessness in Northern Ghana. PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e54429.

Ardayfio-Schandorf E. The family in Ghana: Past and

present perspectives. African Fam turn 21st century. 2006;129.

Nukunya GK. Tradition and change in Ghana: An

introduction to sociology. Ghana Universities Press; 2003.

Owusu MAS and Bosiwah L. Constructions of

Masculinity Among the Akan People of Ghana.

Silberschmidt M. Disempowerment of men in rural and

urban East Africa: implications for male identity and sexual behavior. World Dev. 2001;29(4):657–71.

Fido A and Zahid MA. Coping with infertility among

Kuwaiti women: Cultural perspectives. Int J Soc Psychiatry [Internet]. 2004;50(4):294–300. Available from: https://www.scopus.com/inward/record.uri?eid=2-s2.0-12344288272&doi=10.1177%2F0020764004050334&partnerID=40&md5=4f12e6f946ec0e6873be1367f2b6b892

Adewuya AO and Makanjuola ROA. Lay beliefs regarding

causes of mental illness in Nigeria: pattern and correlates. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2008;43(4):336–41.

Roupa Z, Polikandrioti M, Sotiropoulou P, Faros E,

Koulouri A, Wozniak G and Gourni M. Causes of infertility in women at reproductive age. Heal Sci J. 2009;3(2).

Adongo PB, Tabong PT, Azongo TB, Phillips JF, Sheff

MC, Stone AE and Tapsoba P. A comparative qualitative study of misconceptions associated with contraceptive use in southern and northern Ghana. Front public Heal. 2014;2:137.


  • There are currently no refbacks.