Powerlessness, Normalization, and Resistance: A Foucauldian Discourse Analysis of Women’s Narratives On Obstetric Fistula in Eastern Sudan

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Eastern Sudan has high prevalence of female circumcision and child marriage constituting a risk for developing obstetric fistula. Few studies have examined gender roles’ relation with obstetric fistula in Sudan. To explore the associated power-relations that may put women at increased risk for developing obstetric fistula, we conducted nine interviews with women living with obstetric fistula in Kassala in eastern Sudan. Using a Foucauldian discourse analysis, we identified three discourses: powerlessness, normalization, and covert resistance. Existing power-relations between the women and other societal members revealed their internalization of social norms as absolute truth, and influenced their status and decision-making power in regard to circumcision, early marriage, and other transformative decisions as well as women’s general behaviors. The women showed subtle resistance to these norms and the harassment they encountered because of their fistula. These findings suggest that a more in-depth contextual assessment could benefit future maternal health interventions.

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