'I am always crying on the inside': a qualitative study on the implications of infertility on women's lives in urban Gambia

Susan Dierickx, Ladan Rahbari, Chia Longman, Fatou Jaiteh, Gily Coene

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Background: There is an increasing awareness that infertility in Sub-Saharan Africa constitutes a severe social and public health problem. Few of the existing studies on infertility explicitly take into account the differences between women. However, how women experience infertility is formed by their various social positions. This research explores the implications of infertility on women's lives in urban Gambia and aims to provide an in-depth understanding of how this relates to gender and cultural norms as well as different social positions.

Methods: Qualitative data were collected through interviews (33), group discussions (13), participatory observations (14) and informal conversations (31). Purposive and snowball sampling techniques were used to identify participants. The data was analysed thematically using NVivo 11.

Results: Results showed that there was strong social pressure on urban women in The Gambia to procreate. Unable to conform to their gender role, women with infertility were confronted with financial problems, social stigma, as well as emotional and physical violence in their marriage. All women expressed feelings of trauma, stress and sadness. The intersectional approach used in this study highlighted how different positions influenced women's experiences of infertility. Urban women with a high socio-economic status had a more powerful position within their marriages and the broader community, due to their financial position, professional career and, sometimes, their educational background. In contrast, women from a lower socio-economic background were more likely to be harshly confronted with the social stigma of infertility.

Conclusion: The lives of most women with infertility in The Gambia are characterized by social suffering resulting from gender and pro-natal norms, cultural beliefs and moral concerns, cultural practices and limited access to health care. An intersectional approach is an effective tool to inform public health and social policy since it highlights how, in specific situations, certain groups are more vulnerable than others.

Original languageEnglish
Article number151
JournalReproductive Health
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Childlessness
  • Class
  • Gender
  • Infertility
  • Intersectionality
  • The Gambia
  • Social suffering
  • Stigma

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