Maggie Acosta ’16 Presents Birthing Research at Development Conference

maggieacostaAfter she returned to Bowdoin from a summer spent researching birth policy in northern India, Maggie Acosta began analyzing her data and writing up the results for an independent study.

She applied to present her findings at the International Development Conference held outside of Toronto in early February. Her submission was accepted, and she gave a talk at the event, which is geared toward students, academics and professionals engaged in international development and aid work.

Last summer, supported by a fellowship from Bowdoin’s Preston Public Interest Career Fund, Acosta lived in the state of Uttar Pradesh. She volunteered at a women’s health rights NGO and with the help of a translator interviewed pregnant women and traditional midwives. In her paper, she focuses on a government program implemented about a decade ago to encourage women to give birth in a state hospital or approved private institution. Although designed to lower maternal and infant mortality rates, the program poses ethical questions about the ways the state pursues development and modernity, according to Acosta.

Despite the government claiming that women have choices in how and where they give birth, the reality is that poor women often feel they have no choice but to comply with the government’s agenda. In addition, Acosta says it’s uncertain whether the program’s reproductive health initiatives has entirely succeeded in uplifting and improving the lives of the women she met. However, she writes, “it has succeeded in producing governable citizens whose bodies become the grounds on which India’s claims to development are staked and through which power relations continue to be reproduced.”

Acosta plans to submit her paper to an academic journal, where she hopes it may influence more decision makers. “I am thinking about different ways to reach an audience,” she said. “Ideally I would hope to reach NGO workers who fill in the gaps of healthcare systems and also government workers who can decide what falls under (and is funded by) the state.”

Acosta’s trip to Toronto and the conference was funded by the McKeen Center and the Office of Academic Affairs. Acosta, who is from Missouri, is majoring in neuroscience. After graduating from Bowdoin, she aspires to work in the field public health before pursuing a doctorate in medical anthropology and public health.

Throughout her project, Acosta has been advised by Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies Rachel Sturman and Assistant Professor of Anthropology Greg Beckett. Acosta credits these two professors with helping her prepare well for her talk and for supporting her throughout the entire thinking and writing process. “I’ve had a lot of support from professors who allow me to work through my ideas,” she said.

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