THE EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN IN REPRODUCTIVE SERVICES: A POSTSTRUCTURAL FEMINIST CASE STUDY OF TWO WOMEN’S HEALTH CENTERS

Open Access
Author:
Dayi, Ayse
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
December 15, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Edward A Smith, Committee Chair
  • Phyllis Kernoff Mansfield, Committee Chair
  • Robert Lee Burgess, Committee Member
  • Clancy Blair, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • abortion
  • women's health centers
  • poststructural feminist case study
  • empowerment
  • women's health movement
  • birth control
  • politics of reproduction
  • reproduction
  • reproductive services
Abstract:
This study was conducted to investigate the legacy of the Women's Health Movement (WHM) in the 21st century as it relates to women’s empowerment in the reproductive arena. I investigated the legacy of the WHM in the 21st century through studying two women-controlled agencies with a focus on how women clients define and experience empowerment and how their experiences are affected by agency, community, and societal factors. I visited two women’s health centers in the Northeast region of the United States and collected data in the forms of: (a) semi-structured interviews with staff and clients of birth control and abortion services, (b) observations of pre-abortion counseling sessions and gynecological visits, (c) field notes on staff-staff and staff-client interactions, protesters, spatial arrangement of the centers, conversations with staff, and (d) a review of agency forms and archival materials. The design was a feminist case study with ethnographical components and poststructural influences. Grounded Theory Approach was used to analyze the data. The theory reached was that the current generation of women experience (and define) empowerment as safe and humane care, where care is mediated by agency and community factors and by the politics of reproduction. For women safety and respectful humane care was at the core of empowerment. Safety had both physical and emotional dimensions: being safe from anti-abortion violence, and not feeling vulnerable, judged or cajoled. Humane treatment meant receiving dignified, egalitarian, individualized, and holistic care. Women's experience of empowerment was affected by community, agency, and societal factors. Agency factors were the agency atmosphere, staff characteristics, staff beliefs and motivations, the medicalization and psychologizing of services, and the business aspects. Community factors referred mainly to the interactions between the agency and community that occurred in an anti-choice climate, and reflected the isolation and integration of the centers in their respective communities. Social factors referred to the norms and institutions that influence reproductive services, which I called the “politics of reproduction.” The findings are discussed in the light of the definitions of empowerment, empowerment models, and within the history of the Women’s Health Movement (its aims, accomplishments, and challenges).