Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 20, Issue 12, pp 2437–2450 | Cite as

Closing the Womb Door: Contraception Use and Fertility Transition Among Culturally Tibetan Women in Highland Nepal

  • Sienna R. Craig
  • Geoff Childs
  • Cynthia M. Beall


Objectives Whether in metropoles or remote mountain communities, the availability and adoption of contraceptive technologies prompt serious and wide-ranging biological, social, and political-economic questions. The potential shifts in women’s capacities to create spaces between pregnancies or to prevent future pregnancies have profound and often positive biological, demographic, and socioeconomic implications. Less acknowledged, however, are the ambivalences that women experience around contraception use—vacillations between moral frameworks, generational difference, and gendered forms of labor that have implications well beyond the boundaries of an individual’s reproductive biology. This paper hones in on contraceptive use of culturally Tibetan women in two regions of highland Nepal whose reproductive lives occurred from 1943 to 2012. Methods We describe the experiences of the 296 women (out of a study of more than 1000 women’s reproductive histories) who used contraception, and under what circumstances, examining socioeconomic, geographic, and age differences as well as points of access and patterns of use. We also provide a longitudinal perspective on fertility. Results Our results relate contraception usage to fertility decline, as well as to differences in access between the two communities of women. Conclusions We argue that despite seemingly similar social ecologies of these two study sites—including stated reasons for the adoption of contraception and expressed ambivalence around its use, some of which are linked to moral and cosmological understandings that emerge from Buddhism—the dynamics of contraception uptake in these two regions are distinct, as are, therefore, patterns of fertility transition.


Nepal Tibetans Contraception Fertility transition 



Most of the data presented in this paper was gathered in the summer of 2012 during a project titled Genes and the Fertility of Tibetan Women at High Altitude in Nepal, which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. BCS-1153911). Additional Funding was provided by grants from the Claire Garber Goodman Fund, the Rockefeller Center, and the Dean of Faculty Innovation and Advancement Fund, at Dartmouth College. The Institutional Review Boards of Case Western Reserve University, Washington University, Dartmouth College, Oxtrec, and the Nepal Health Research Council approved the research protocol. We would like to thank our fieldwork assistants for their hard work and dedication to the project: for Nubri and Tsum, Ang Tsering, Jangchuk Sangmo, Tinley Tsering, Tsechu Dolma, and Tsering Buti; for Mustang, Kunzom Thakuri, Karma Chödron, ‘‘Apu’’ Karma Cho¨dron, Diki Dolkar Gurung, Yangjin Bista, Karchung Gurung, Nawang Tsering Gurung, and Tashi Bista. We also thank the study communities and volunteers for their hospitality and participation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sienna R. Craig
    • 1
  • Geoff Childs
    • 2
  • Cynthia M. Beall
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  2. 2.Washington UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Case Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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