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International History and Politics

Birth Control in the Decolonizing Caribbean: Reproductive Politics and Practice on Four Islands, 1930-1970

  • Timeline: Publication on December 2016, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Keywords: Reproduction, Population, Maternal Health, Gender, Nationalism, Decolonisation, Development


This project explores the rise of transnational birth control campaigns, family planning activism, and reproductive health/rights movements from the 1920s onwards.

Moving beyond the most famous advocates, this project will use the archives of international organisations, papers of select local family planning clinics/programs, and oral histories to examine how these campaigns were shaped by a much wider range of actors, including fieldworkers who fanned out across the globe to spread “the gospel of birth control”; local nurses and women’s health activists who organized sex education classes in their communities; religious leaders who supported family planning from the pulpit; and doctors who found themselves becoming outspoken abortion law reform activists.  These “middle” men and women served as a critical bridge between international/state funded programmes and local communities, while also building transnational networks that fuelled the exchange of ideas and strategies across borders.  As practitioners and/or prophets for the cause, they were on the frontlines of both shifting international paradigms and the practice of reproductive control on the ground.

Over the course of the twentieth century, campaigns to increase access to modern birth control methods spread across the globe and fundamentally altered the way people thought about and mobilised around reproduction. This book explores how a variety of actors translated this movement into practice on four islands (Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and Bermuda) between the 1930s and 1970s. The process of decolonisation during this period led to heightened clashes over imperial and national policy and brought local class, race and gender tensions to the surface, making debates over reproductive practices particularly evocative. Based on research in fifteen archives and libraries across six countries, Birth Control in the Decolonizing Caribbean is at once a political history, a history of activism, and a social history, exploring the challenges faced by working-class women as they tried to negotiate control over their reproductive lives within this heated context.


Birth Control in the Decolonizing Caribbean

Reproductive Politics and Practice on Four Islands, 1930–1970