Chikotsa—Secrets, Silence, and Hiding: Social Risk and Reproductive Vulnerability in Central Mozambique

Abstract

In this article, I examine pregnancy narratives and patterns of reproductive health seeking among women of fertile age in central Mozambique. I map the interplay between gendered economic marginalization, maternal risk perceptions, and pregnancy management strategies. By interpreting my data in light of Shona illness theories, I illuminate the ways that embodied experiences of reproductive vulnerability, risk perceptions, and social inequalities are linked: women attribute the most serious maternal complications to human- or spirit-induced reproductive threats of witchcraft and sorcery. This construction of reproductive vulnerability as social threats related to material and social competition significantly influences prenatal health seeking. Data reveal the structural and cognitive gap between biomedical constructions of risk and lay social threat perceptions. Plural health care systems are strategically utilized by women seeking to minimize both social and biological harm. On-the-ground ethnography shows that maternal health initiatives must take this plurality into full and accommodative account to achieve viable improvements in reproductive care and outcomes.