The social and cultural consequences of infertility in rural and periurban Malawi

Kristan Elwell


Relatively little is known about infertility experiences among women in rural Malawi and the impact of infertility on women’s marital and family relations. This article examines the perspectives of women and health care providers regarding women’s concepts of reproductive health and attitudes toward infertility. The paper explores the supports and barriers to managing infertility at the individual, household, and community levels. The data presented was drawn from semi-structured interviews with health care providers and patients within a prevention of mother to child transmission program and focus group discussions with community men and women in four communities in Southern Malawi. Seventy-eight patients, 12 health care providers, and 32 community leaders participated in the study. The findings suggest that gender inequities and kinship relations intersect to produce infertility related stigma which exacerbates the social and cultural consequences of being infertile in these study communities. Social support from other women experiencing infertility is one strategy to help women manage the social and cultural burden of infertility in these study communities. These results shed light on the meaning of motherhood to women living in rural and periurban Sub-Saharan African communities and call for an expansion of infertility services, social services, and mental health services for both women and men who experience infertility. (Afr J Reprod Health 2022; 26[7]: 112-126).

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