Date of Graduation

Fall 12-14-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Studies


International Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Anne Bartlett


Millions of Somalis began fleeing their country in 1991 to escape the civil war. The largest Diaspora of Somali refugees in the United States currently reside in Minnesota. Utilizing a qualitative research approach, four focus groups with 25 Somali women, two focus groups with 12 Somali men, one focus group with Somali religious leaders and seven in-depth interviews with American healthcare professionals were conducted in Minneapolis to help develop culturally sensitive reproductive health programs for Somali mothers. Twenty key distinctions between Somali cultural traditions and Western medicine were identified. For many Somali women, prenatal care is a new concept. There was a strong desire for female caregivers and significant differences in childbirth practices exist versus cultural traditions. Women expressed fears regarding cesarean sections and felt that their providers rushed to cesarean sections. Providers’ generally poor understanding of female circumcision led to birthing complications, including obstetric fistula. All Somalis desired post-partum 40-day family support. Education about safe child spacing methods will enable Somali mothers/infants to stay healthy and avoid giving birth annually. Importantly, healthcare professionals who have been working with Somali mothers since the influx began in the 1990s shared a valuable collection of best practices. To provide culturally sensitive birthing and child spacing experiences, providers must understand cultural traditions related to Somali reproductive health, and Somalis must be educated on Western medical practices to optimize maternal health in a Western medical environment. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations also have a collective obligation to bring the two populations together.