Toward an assessment of the social role of rural midwives and its implication for the family planning program: an Iranian case study.

W. O. Beeman, A. K. Bhattacharyya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


An axiom of family planning programming is the importance of culturally-appropriate communicators and motivators. Traditional midwives seem ideal for this task but few studies have been done to verify this assumption by analyzing the midwife's social role as perceived by the community. 325 married women and 81 unmarried girls from a "model village" near Shiraz were interviewed by female undergraduates. 82.5% of the women are of childbearing age; 66% married before 14 years; 33% use contraception, mostly the pill, but most want large families because they expect high child mortality rates. Most of the older women are able to assist in childbirth but none, except the village's one recognized midwife, who is considered to have divine backing, will do so except in an emergency. The midwife's activities cause her to be held in low esteem by the community because 1) she has contact with a woman's sexual parts and this fact is public; 2) she has contact with vaginal excretia which are, in Islam, polluting; and 3) she is paid for her services, which labels her as a woman "without shame". The midwife is, however, widely used since women and their husbands fear the trip to the hospital and treatment by a male doctor much more than a midwife-supervised birth. The midwife in the study village had been there only 2 years and feels that she is not fully trusted. She is not consulted on birth control at all, because women expect the pill to be dispensed by doctors and consider other methods as a matter strictly between husband and wife. The midwife's role seems to complement that of the government health authorities rather than compete. The midwife's low status and circumscribed sphere of activity, the weak respect in which her advice is held and the pattern of having only 1 recognized midwife in a village at a time make the midwife a poor agent for family planning services. Her effectiveness as an agent of social change could be improved by training her in hygienic practices of childbirth and by redefining her role-relationship with the community. Studies should be done to identify the areas where traditional birth attendants are the best family planning communicators and those where that role is best left to others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-300
Number of pages6
JournalHuman organization
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1978
Externally publishedYes


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