Forced Motherhood: Synonymous with Violence

By: Karen Legrand

“If you don’t become a mother, you’ll never fully be a woman.”

“You’ll end up alone if you don’t have children.”

“They did her a favor by getting her pregnant.”

In a country as conservative and machista as Guatemala, deciding to be a mother instead of just becoming one without questioning it is seen as unnatural. This is evidenced by the pressure exerted by social structures based on cultural, religious, and social beliefs that link motherhood with the duty of women. Comments such as “You’ll end up alone if you don’t have children,” “If you don’t become a mother, you’ll never fully be a woman,” “They did her a favor (when a man gets a woman pregnant),” or “Who will take care of you when you’re older?” show how the concept of motherhood is seen as a contract in which women are not themselves capable of having value, which is conceived under the imaginary of the role of “service and submission” of women.

Forced motherhood in Guatemala

The regional #Niñasnomadres (girls not mothers) campaign analyzes forced motherhood as the result of rape, forced sexual acts, and restricted sexual and reproductive health services, such as legal abortion and a lack of policies that comprehensively deal with the violation of rights and the future of young and teenage girls.

Guatemala is one of the countries in the region with alarming rates of childhood and teenage pregnancy. According to data from the Observatory of Sexual and Reproductive Health, OSAR, in the year 2019, there were:

  • 114,858 pregnancies in girls between the ages of 10 and 19
  • 315 young and teenage girls who got pregnant each day
  • 5,061 between the ages of 10 and 14

These facts represent the reality of young and teenage Guatemalan girls who live in highly vulnerable situations and are exposed to rape, human trafficking, forced sexual relations, misinformation about their sexual and reproductive rights, and a lack of policies and programs that guarantee comprehensive sexual education.

Forced pregnancy has multidimensional effects on the lives of women. Physically it can put women at risk of death before, during or after birth, and also at risk of abuse by healthcare and pre-natal care providers. Socially and communally, familiar and academic exclusion, where women are kicked out of their houses and schools, as well as exposure to physical, emotional, and psychological violence are all frequently seen. Often, women are forced to abandon their life goals and suffer emotional issues like anxiety or postpartum depression, to name a few examples.

Knowing our sexual and reproductive rights

Sexuality is an integration of physical, emotional, social and spiritual aspects, which is to say that it is tied to our whole being, our body, thoughts, emotions, situation, beliefs, desires, etc. Below we have a list of the principal sexual and reproductive rights based on the Guatemalan legal framework and treaties and international agreements signed by the State of Guatemala.

  1.  The right to live and make decisions freely, autonomously, and from an informed position about my body and sexuality.
  2. The right to fully exercise and enjoy by sexuality.
  3. The right to publicly manifest my feelings for others.
  4. The right to freely decide with whom to have romantic, erotic, and social relationships.
  5. The right to an intimate and private life and the confidentiality of my personal information.
  6. The right to live, physical, psychological, and sexual wellbeing, living free from violence.
  7. The right to live free of discrimination.
  8. The right to equal conditions and opportunity.
  9. The right to make decisions about my reproductive life in a free and informed manner.
  10. The right to sexual and reproductive health services, including access to contraception.
  11. The right to current, valid, complete, scientific, and secular information about sexuality.
  12. The right to comprehensive sexual education.
  13. The right to participate in public policy on sexuality.

Are you interested in furthering each of your rights? Here we have a list of virtual resources you can consult:

Motherhood will either be desired or not

Deciding to become a mother, or not, how many children you want to have, to use contraceptives or not (and what type), and to denounce rape are actions liked with the exercise of our sexual and reproductive rights. As women, we have the right to freely make decisions about our bodies and our sexuality. We are the protagonists of our life stories.

Karen Legrand is a community psychologist and a contributor to Revista EntreMundos