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Helping Women in Ghana


Noelle Miller ’09, a Visual Anthropology major, completed an Independent Study Project about national family planning initiatives. Her inspiration for the program came after hearing a talk given by a nurse about the reluctance of many families to use family planning. The nurse said that because Ghana is a pro-natal country where people value large families, family planning initiatives are in conflict with cultural ideals. Noelle wanted to investigate whether women were being pressured by the government or health practitioners to use family planning in order to conform to family size standards set by international agencies like the UN Population Fund and the World Bank. She made observations at two family planning clinics in the northern region of Ghana and interviewed family planning practitioners, policy makers, and patients. “I wanted to see if family planning initiatives were empowering or oppressing women, whether or not women were being coerced into having small families in order to please Western agencies.”

Noelle found that based on the type of family planning methods recommended to female patients, family planning could be seen as an oppressive governmental tool. For example, many women were counseled by practitioners to use Norplant, a hormonal birth control implant that is banned from use in the United States and the United Kingdom. The implantation of Norplant requires local anesthetization at the arm and minor surgery. During her observations, Noelle witnessed four removals of Norplant, two of which resulted in complications where the patient displayed excessive bleeding or the nurse was unable to remove the whole implant. Noelle says that methods like Norplant and IUD (Intrauterine Device) take power away from patients. “If the practitioners were encouraging the use of short-term, patient-controlled methods, that would be more empowering to women.” During her time abroad, Noelle was able to spend a month living independently and conducting research into this topic. As a result, she compiled a large project that she submitted to the USC Undergraduate Research Symposium where she was awarded 2nd place in the social sciences awards category.


Noelle plans to continue to pursue her interest in women's health and will start a masters program in nursing in spring 2010.