By Sara Kirstine Hald
Condoms, birth control pills, and other forms of contraception are free in Greenland. Yet, the abortion rate remains one of the highest in the world.
“Abortions are a symptom of something larger,” says Augustine Rosing, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Cultural and Social History. She is part of a research duo investigating reproduction and sexual health in Paamiut, where she also resides.
Her research partner, Malory Peterson, adds: “We know that the abortion rate is high, but we have to accept that we don’t know why it’s high. And that’s what we need to understand.”
Malory Peterson specializes in sexuality and fertility, doing a Ph.D. at Montana State University. She focuses particularly on society-specific challenges and finding solutions that align with specific cultures’ values and the community’s resources.
“Abortions are a symptom of something larger.”
– Augustine Rosing
Malory Peterson and Augustine Rosing have interviewed men and women in Paamiut, delving into their personal thoughts and experiences regarding reproduction.
While the research project isn’t concluded yet, one significant observation is that Paamiut’s population doesn’t point to a lack of sexual education as a problem.
“It’s a widespread misconception that pregnancies in Greenland aren’t planned, or that people don’t care. That’s not at all what we hear from our participants,” says Malory Peterson. “People think about expanding their families and discuss it with their partners. That was surprising.”
“It’s a widespread misconception that pregnancies in Greenland aren’t planned, or that people don’t care.”
– Malory Peterson
“I don’t find it surprising. I know that we already start preparing for grandchildren when we have children. My five-year-old son has started talking about ‘when he has children,'” says Augustine Rosing.
Instead of a lack of information, several interviewees highlight the development of the local community as the real challenge. It wasn’t the researchers’ original focus, but it emerged as a significant input.
High demand for housing and playgrounds
“Researchers often look at how to support people’s fertility decisions from a medical standpoint. But in reality, it’s societal development that the population demands. They want proper houses and playgrounds for their children,” says Malory Peterson.
According to Augustine Rosing, finding a place to live to start a family in Paamiut can be challenging. “Young people can’t just move out because they can’t get an apartment,” she says.
Malory Peterson explains that this directly influences whether someone chooses to have a child. Several interviewees mentioned living in overcrowded houses and therefore not wanting to have a child.
“When it’s hard to envision a future where you live, it doesn’t support healthy, well-considered pregnancies,” says Malory Peterson.
Moreover, it’s essential for many to be in an emotionally stable relationship, to have achieved their educational goals, and to have a good relationship with their family before having children. Regarding the lack of contraceptive use, she mentions distrust in the healthcare system, physical or mental discomfort using hormonal contraception or fear of having an intrauterine device (IUD) fitted by a doctor you don’t know.
“When it’s hard to envision a future where you live, it doesn’t support healthy, well-considered pregnancies.”
– Malory Peterson.
- In 2022, 870 abortions were perfomed in Greenland.
- The abortion quotient – the number of abortions performed per 1,000 women – is approximately five times higher in Greenland than in other Nordic countries.
- For many years, there have been more abortions performed in Greenland than childbirths.
- On average, Greenlandic women have two abortions during their lifetimes.
- Paamiut is not accredited as a place for childbirths, so pregnant residents of Paamiut must go to Nuuk to give birth.
- In 2021, 21 induced abortions were performed in Paamiut.
- In 2021, 10 children were born to residents of Paamiut. In 2022, the number was 14.
The analysis is a dialogue
All interviews in the research project were conducted in Greenlandic, while Augustine Rosing provided real-time translations, allowing both her and Malory Peterson to ask follow-up questions.
Subsequently, the two researchers discussed each interview thoroughly.
“Right after each interview, we analyze the key points and ensure we respect our own feelings in it. Because it is emotional – both for us and the participants,” says Malory Peterson.
“Our analysis is, in fact, a dialogue. Augustine brings her perspective, and I bring mine. We look at where we’ve understood our data similarly and where we’ve understood it differently, then try to capture both these perspectives,” she adds.
The participants are engaged
Aside from the researchers’ involvement in the analysis, the interviewees are also engaged.
“We present our results to the participants and have a discussion about whether we’ve understood them correctly,” says Augustine Rosing.
“Out of respect for the local community and to ensure the participants retain ownership of their own stories, we don’t propose any final recommendations until they’ve reviewed our findings,” says Malory Peterson. “We ask them for feedback. ‘What do you think? Does it match your experience? Is there anything else you would add?'”
Researching in one’s own community
Augustine Rosing is part of the Paamiut community, which means she has to keep things separate.
“When conducting research in small communities where you also live, you have to learn to distance yourself,” says Augustine Rosing.
She has been researching since 2009 and explains that she has gradually learned to be objective.
“I don’t understand how you draw that line,” Malory says to Augustine. “I can’t imagine carrying all these stories around in my own hometown, but people trust her, and rightfully so.”
It’s not just research
Trust played a central role in the project, and the researchers worked hard on Malory Peterson’s acceptance in the community. They mention that at the start of their collaboration, they spent time walking around town just showing people that Malory was there.
“We had to introduce her to the population before we could even begin finding interviewees,” says Augustine Rosing.
“Yes, and much of what we’ve done in Paamiut hasn’t been research at all. It’s been, for example, visiting the local youth center and telling them about what we’re doing,” says Malory Peterson.
“This isn’t about us and our egos. It’s about giving back, and it’s not my and Malory’s research, but all of ours.”
– Augustine Rosing.
Both researchers are aware that there wouldn’t be a research project without the local interviewees.
“This isn’t about us and our egos. It’s about giving back, and it’s not my and Malory’s research, but all of ours,” says Augustine Rosing.
And what now?
It’s essential for the research duo that the local community benefits from their project.
“We give back to the community in form of the results, which we’ll present at an event in Paamiut where everyone can participate. And then we’ll provide people with the complete report if they want to know more,” says Augustine Rosing.
“Moreover, we’ll meeting with institutions in Paamiut and informing them about our findings and, naturally, presenting it to decision-makers,” adds Malory Peterson.
They hope that the work won’t stop once this specific research project concludes.
“We need to talk to the local community again and ask, ‘Okay, what now?’ And we hope that more projects will follow this one – based on what the population needs,” concludes Malory Peterson.