‘Woman’s Business’

There is a serious need for methodology design to proceed with ethical caution, with respect to cultural requirements. One such cultural speaking restraint, requiring careful consideration, is known as ‘men’s business/women’s business’. In traditional Indigenous Australian culture, there is no confusion about gender roles, even for those who do not live within a traditional context; these traditions continue to resonate (Bell 1998). ‘Men’s business’ involves hunting, conflicts, the land, male anatomy and male ceremonial business (Maher, 1999, p. 232). ‘Women’s business’ is defined by Reid (1979) as… ‘experience and knowledge of menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and contraception’ (cited in Barclay, Andre and Glover 1989, p. 122). It is the domain of women (Reid 1979). Mayer practically explains this concept, specifically within the healthcare context,

Breaches of these traditional divisions (e.g. female nurse washing elderly initiated male Aboriginal, a female nurse teaching an Aboriginal man self-catheterisation or a male doctor undertaking a vaginal inspection) is likely to cause great distress and ‘shame’. Shame is a complex concept that is difficult to translate into non-Aboriginal English (Maher, 1999, p. 232).

While there are exceptions, pregnant Indigenous Australian women do not want men questioning them about ‘women’s business’ (Maher, 1999; Kildea, Wardaguga & Dawumal, 2004, Bell, 1998). In some cases they reject women, such as non-Indigenous healthcare workers, who violate this cultural tradition. For example, a recent study by Bar-Zeev et al. (2014) reported,

Domestic violence, grog (alcohol) use and smoking are real big problems… but we (non-Aboriginal midwives) can’t be the one trying to talk to them (pregnant women) about this… it needs to be health workers, the old ladies (Elders) doing all the talking… I feel like it always comes across like your shaming (embarrassing, humiliating) them if you bring it up… like pointing fingers… (Bar-Zeev et al., 2014, p. 293).

Indigenous Australian people view the concept of ‘shame’ seriously. It ‘describes situations in which a person has been singled out for any purpose, scolding or praise or simply attention, in which the person loses the security and anonymity provided by the group’ (Harkins 1990, cited in Maher 1999, p. 232) It is experienced in situations in which one does not know the rules for doing the right thing, where whatever one does would be wrong because one should not be in the situation (Harkins 1990) or by a person who acts, or who is forced to act, in a manner that is not sanctioned by the group and that is in conflict with social and spiritual obligations (Morgan et al. 1997).

From an Indigenous Australian cultural perspective, maternal healthcare is the traditional responsibility of senior women. Senior female family members such as grandmothers and aunts assume important social roles to pregnant women. Older women are greatly respected and are often considered to have the special knowledge and experience to attend to women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. (Callaghan, 2001)

To avoid causing ‘shame’ to an Indigenous Australian woman, the male researcher, during the course of ethical research, must avoid speaking about ‘women’s business’. As the aim of the project is to adapt a set of generic maternal healthcare messages into the context of pregnant Indigenous Australian women; speaking restraints must be observed. This requires a thorough understanding of the practical principles surrounding the notion of ‘women’s business’. At no stage of the current methodology, is the researcher required to speak directly to women about ‘women’s business’. Healthcare professionals working in the field of Indigenous maternal health and senior Indigenous Australian women are involved in the development of culturally appropriate healthcare messages. This is an iterative writing process that does not require the researcher to speak about ‘women’s business’. Even when the messages are tested on pregnant Indigenous Australian women, the test is for message ‘tone’, not about their pregnancies.

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