Family planning has long been promoted within international health efforts because of its potential benefits for controlling population growth, reducing poverty and maternal and child mortality, empowering women, and enhancing environmental sustainability. In Burkina Faso, the government and donor partners share a commitment to ‘family planning’, notably by increasing the low uptake of ‘modern’ contraceptive methods in the general population and reducing recourse to induced abortion, which remains legally restricted. This paper presents ethnographic findings that show the complexity of family planning within the social context of women’s lives and care-seeking trajectories. It draws on participant observation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, and interviews with women with a wide range of reproductive experiences and providers of family planning services. First, the paper shows that women’s use of contraceptive methods and abortion is embedded in the wider social dilemmas relating to marriage, sexuality, and gendered relationships. Second, it shows that women use contraceptives to meet a variety of needs other than those promoted in public health policies. Thus, while women’s use of contraceptive methods is often equated with family planning within public health research and health policy discourse, the uses women make of them imbue them with other meanings related to social, spiritual, or aesthetic goals.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited