And they lived happily ever after: middle class women’s reproductive experiences and decisions in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
AffiliationNossal Institute for Global Health
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Belinda Rina Marie Spagnoletti
For Indonesian women and men from all social strata, the milestones of heterosexual marriage and parenthood are not only symbolic of the transition to adulthood, but also represent the path to an idealised, normative future, otherwise known as the ‘happily ever after’. This thesis explores the happily ever after trajectories of 20 predominantly middle class, Muslim women in urban Yogyakarta, Indonesia, with a focus on their reproductive experiences and decisions. Specifically, it explores women’s negotiations of family planning, infant feeding and work. The ethnographic research that informs this thesis involved in-depth interviews with 20 women; focus group discussions with seven primary health workers and seven breastfeeding counsellors; semi-structured interviews with five key community stakeholders; and participant observation. Fieldwork was undertaken over 18 months and employed a grounded theory approach to generate key themes for analysis. In exploring the themes that emerged as most important to my women informants, I deployed the concepts of reproductive agency, reproductive modernity and reproductive politics. Key findings highlight how women’s reproductive agency in relation to family planning, infant feeding and juggling reproductive work with paid work or study may be both supported and constrained in their everyday negotiations within their intimate circles and with health workers, employers and educational institutions. The thesis also theorises how reproductive modernity is intrinsic to women’s reproductive experiences and decisions, especially in relation to their preferences for non-hormonal and non-biomedical contraceptive methods. It also critiques the formal political agendas that intersect with women’s attainment of happily ever after, by informing their decisions to breastfeed, their balancing of reproductive and productive work or study, and their family planning negotiations. This thesis presents a new analytical framework for understanding women’s reproductive experiences and decisions at multiple levels, including their interpersonal relationships, societal norms and formal reproductive politics (the WRED framework). The application of the WRED framework demonstrates its utility in the development of multi-level, translational recommendations that take into account the complexity of factors influencing women’s reproductive health and reproductive agency. The thesis addresses a notable gap in research into the reproductive experiences and decisions of middle class women in Indonesia and extends prior research on family planning in the Indonesian context. It adds to recent scholarship challenging the biomedical categorisation of certain contraceptives as ‘modern’ and others as ‘traditional’. The thesis expands feminist critiques of breastfeeding promotion and unpacks the effects of discourses of morality in relation to women’s reproductive rights in Indonesia. It also expands the concept of reproductive agency by considering a form of collective agency for middle class women seeking to juggle their reproductive and productive roles. This thesis concludes that the path to happily ever after for the middle class Indonesian women in this study was only partially attained through marriage and parenthood. There were many other essential ingredients contributing to women’s happily ever afters, including post-secondary education and a career; more companionate, equal marriages; contraceptive choice and a preference for reproductive health over fertility control; and pragmatic religious piety.
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