UCL Anthropology


Rebecca Irons

Rebecca Irons

UCL Email: rebecca.irons.14@ucl.ac.uk 
Year of Start: 2016
Supervisors: Sahra Gibbon and Jennie Gamlin
Subject: Medical Anthropology
Fieldsite: Peru

PhD Research

Planning Quechua Families: Indigenous Subjectivities, Inequalities and Kinship under the Peruvian Family Planning Programme

Quechua people have a fraught history with the Peruvian national family planning (FP) programme, with an estimated 300,000 individuals (forcibly) sterilised during the 1990s Fujimori-government in a biopolitical act that saw indigenous people as less ‘desirable’ and therefore sought to restrict reproduction in this group (Ewig, 2010).

The state is now targeting the ‘rural, poor’ (often synonymous with ‘indigenous’) specifically for family planning intervention once more, based on perceived unmet need in this population. Now, for the first time in history, the 2017 national census included a question about identification of indigeneity, further suggesting heightened governmental interest in the demographics of this group.

State intervention in Quechua reproductive health is not limited to FP. In 2005 an ‘intercultural birth’ policy was introduced that sought to bring women away from communities and into hospitals through the implementation of ‘Quechua cultural elements’ of birth amongst the biomedical settings. However, it has been argued that this policy was a veiled attempt to alter the subjectivities of Quechua women through an enforced association with biomedicine, thereby ‘whitening’ them (Guerra-Reyes, 2014). Social whitening through biomedical-association is well documented in the Andes; for example, women may seek IVF treatment or caesarean scars as proof of their interaction with the ‘whiter’ biomedical environments (Roberts, 2012). Yet, not all Andeans actively seek this racialised subjectivity, and instead may have it forced upon them as a imposition of state ‘coloniality of power’ that hierarchies race in Peru, to the disadvantage of the indigenous (Quijano, 2000). Such reproductive health policies can irreparably disrupt not only corporeal-subjectivity but kinship relations (Berry, 2010), inalterably affecting subjectivities at multiple levels.

Through an ethnographic investigation into the contemporary FP programme offered to low-income Quechua women free-of-charge in a health-network in rural Ayacucho, this timely study interrogates if/how, through biomedical FP, the Peruvian state influences indigenous subjectivity, inequalities, and kinship.

Research Interests

  • Medical Anthropology
  • Kinship
  • Reproductive and Sexual Health
  • Latin America
  • Race
  • Biopolitics
  • STS
  • Anthropology of Gender
  • Inequality
  • Development & NGOs
  • Migration


  • Irons, R. 2020. “Post-Coital Pharmaceuticals and Abortion Ambiguity: Avoiding Unwanted Pregnancy using Emergency Contraception and Misoprostol in Lima, Peru”. In Critical Medical Anthropology: Perspectives in/from Latin America. (Ed. Gamlin, J. Gibbon, S. Sesia, P. and Berrio, L.). Series: “Re-engaging with Critical Medical Anthropology”. UCL Press: London.
  • Irons, R. 2020. “Condena religiosa a la Anticoncepción Oral de Emergencia por abortiva: perspectivas globales y locales en torno a la controversia”. In Mujeres, Aborto y Religiones: Debates Sobre Política Sexual, Subjetividades y Campo Religioso. Flora Tristán: Lima
  • Irons, R. 2019. “(Re)produciendo  profesionales  peruanos:  la  asistencia  social  y  la  ciudadanía-materna  de  las madres quechuas empobrecidas”.Antropologica, 37(43): 227-253
  • Irons, R. 2019. “Mejorando La Atención Medica En Los Servicios De Planificación Familiar Con Pacientes Quechuas En Ayacucho: Un Análisis Cualitativa”. Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Publica. 36:(2), 188-95.
  • Irons, R. 2018. “State Silencing and Women’s Reproductive Health in Peru: Past Sterilizations and Contemporary Concerns”. In Women, Social Change, and Activism: Then and Now (Ed. Hutchinson, D. & Underwood, L.). Lexington Books: New York.
Book Reviews:
  • Irons, R. 2019. “Oliveira, Gabrielle. 2018. Motherhood across orders: Immigrants and their children in Mexico and New York. New York: NYU Press”. Social Anthropology,  27(2): 387-388
  • Irons, R. 2019. “Han,  Sallie,  Tracy  K.  Betsinger  and  Amy  B.  Scott  (eds.)  2017.  The  anthropology  of  the   fetus:   biology,   culture,   and   society. New  York:  Berghahn  Books”. Social Anthropology, 27 (1):116-117
  • “Consciously Quarantined: A COVID-19 Response from the Social Sciences”. Series co-ordinator (with Sahra Gibbon). Medical Anthropology UCL Blog, April 2020.
  • Quarantime: Disruption of Routine and the Global Suspension of Lived Temporalities. ‘Consciously Quarantined: A COVID-19 Response from the Social Sciences’, Medical Anthropology UCL Blog, April 2020.
  • Grasping for Unity in a Divided Britain: Ageism, Brexit-Era Politics, and the COVID-19 ‘Boomer Remover’. ‘Consciously Quarantined: A COVID-19 Response from the Social Sciences’, Medical Anthropology UCL Blog, April 2020.
  • Prmoting Social Embeddedness of New Biotechnologies, Medical Anthrpology UCL Blog, November 2019.
  • On Indigenous peoples and the decolonisation of the Anthropocene: Thoughts from the Anthropocene Campus 2018, Melbourne. Anthropolitan,  Issue 16, Summer 2019
  • Venezuelan Refugee access t Reproductive and Sexual Health Services in Peru: Understanding and Addressing the Need. Medical Anthrpology UCL Blog, July 2019.
  • Higher Educatin and Societal Transformation: Decolonisation and Racial Equality Workshop, June 2019 Brasilia. Medical Anthrppology UCL Blog, June 2019.
  • Reprductive Health Policy in Conference: The 2018 International Conference on Family Planning, Rwanda. Medical Anthrpology UCL Blog, April 2019.
  • Saints & Spending Power: A Reflection on Money. Anthropolitan, Issue 15, Summer 2018
  • Rebecca Sklot & the Lacks Family on Communication in Science and Medicine. Medical Anthrpology UCL Blog, May 2018.
  • Bodies, Reproduction, and Peruvian Politics, Anthropolitan, Issue 14, Summer 2017
  • Fcusing on Funding: Thoughts from a Maternal Health Workshop in Johannesburg. Medical Anthrpology UCL Blog, Nvember 2017.
  • Choosing Different Methods of Contraception in Peru, Anthropolitan, Issue 13, Spring 2016


  • January - April 2020, Visiting Lecturer in Medical Anthropology. Anthropology Department, University College London
  • July 2019, University of East Carolina International Field School, “Exploring Peruvian Cultural Diversity: The Highlands” Huaraz, Ancash, Peru
  • July 2018, University of East Carolina International Field School, “Exploring Peruvian Cultural Diversity: The Highlands”. Huaraz, Ancash, Peru. 
Guest Lectures & Invited Talks
  • 2020 – Guest Lecturer in Global Health, Institute of Global Health, University College London. “Anthropological perspectives on global health
  • 2020 – Guest Lecturer in Anthropology, “Anthropology of Global Health”, Brunel University, London.
  • 2017 - Guest Lecturer in Global Health, Institute of Global Heath, University College London “Medicalization of Pregnancy & Childbirth”.

Presentations & Conferences

  • November 2019 – ‘Representatives of the State: Making Visible Government Health Worker Realities, Roles and Tensions in Rural Andean Peru’. Oral Presentation. American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting. Vancouver, Canada.
  • September 2019 - "Earth Beings" and Reprduction in the Southern Andes: A Cosmopolitics of Kinship. Oral Presentatin.  Sciety for the Study of Science & Society (4S).  New Orleans, USA.
  • June 2019 - Decolonising Gender in Andean Medical Higher Education: Complementarity and Coloniality in Peru. Oral Presentation and Workshop participant (full bursary). Decolonialism, Race, and Higher Education Workshop (Newton Fund), Brasilia, Brazil.
  • April 2019 - Shadows of Sterilisations: Embodied Fear and Contraception in Andean Peru. Oral Presentation. 5th World Conference of Women’s Studies. Bangkok, Thailand.
  • March 2019 - Motherhood and Potential Citizenship in Ayacucho: Family Planning Programme Priorities. Oral Presentation. Society for Applied Anthropology. Portland, USA.
    • PANEL CO-CHAIR (with Dr. Brooks): Women’s Wellbeing in the Peruvian Andes: Social Stress, Religious Beliefs, and Health during Times of Change. Society for Applied Anthropology. Portland, USA.
  • November 2018 - “The State’s Choice, A Man’s Choice, or Her Choice? : Planning Quechua-Indigenous Families under a Legacy of Enforced Sterilisations in Peru”. Flash Presentation, International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP). Kigali, Rwanda.
  • October 2018“Planificando Familias Quechuas: El Ministerio de Salud en Vilcashuaman”. Oral & Poster Presentation. trAndes Escuela de Primavera. Lima, Peru.
  • October 2018 - “Living amongst animals:  Addressing local realities and echinococcosis in Rural Andean Peru, in Anthrozoological perspective”. Oral Presentation and workshop participant (full bursary). The roadmap to echinococcosis control in Peru: review and synthesis of the evidence. (Newton Fund) Lima, Peru.
  • September 2018 - “Planning Quechua Families and Imagining the Nation: Kinship, Citizenship and the Self in the Peruvian Andes”. Oral Presentation.  Society for the Study of Science & Society (4S).  Sydney, Australia.
  • July 2018 - “Reproducing Peruvian Professionals: Maternities and child-futures under the National Family Planning Programme”. Oral Presentation.  Andean Research Pro-Seminar (Quechua @ Penn University), Cusco, Peru.
  • April 2018 - “Hormonal Monsters: Modern Contraceptives and the fear of “Cancer” among the Andean-Quechua of Peru”. Poster presentation. Frankenstein @ 200: International Health Humanities Consortium Conference. Stanford University, California.
  • April 2018 - “Valuing difference: Guatemalan traditional midwives and the increasing biomedicalisation of care practices”. Oral Presentation. Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Conference: Sustainable Futures Philadelphia, USA.
    • CHAIR: “Sustaining Tradition, Promoting Health: Midwifery in Contemporary Guatemalan Maternal Care (SMA)” Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Conference: Sustainable Futures Philadelphia, USA.
  • March 2018 - “Sharing Experiences as Resistance to State Silencing?: Peruvian Women’s Testimonios of Enforced Sterilisation”. Oral Presentation.  The Global Status of Women and Girls Conference. Christopher Newport University, Virginia, USA. 
  • October 2017 - “Quechua Indigenous women and the national family planning service in Peru: Working towards greater equality or not?”. Oral Presentation. International Interdisciplinary Conference on Gender Studies and the Status of Women.  Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. 
  • September 2017 - Workshop participant (full bursary). Towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC): Promoting and Responding to Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health (MNCAH) (Newton Fund) Human Sciences Research Council, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • August 2017 - “Ambiguities of Abortion: Multiple Realities and Misoprostol in Lima, Peru”. Oral Presentation. Society for the Study of Science & Society (4S). Boston, USA.
  • January 2017 - “Post-Coital Pharmaceuticals and Concepts of Time in Foetal Development: Exploring Multiple Realities and Debates on the Abortifacient Nature of Emergency Contraception and Misoprostol in Lima, Peru”. Oral Presentation and workshop participant. Critical Medical Anthropology Workshop (Newton Fund Early Career Researchers). Oaxaca, Mexico.
Academic Workshops

As Organiser:

  • ANDINXS: Addressing Contemporary Politics and Gender in the Andes. Funded By: Institute of Advanced Studies Octagon Small Grants Fund. UCL, London, 28th February 2020

As Participant:

  • Promoting Social Embeddedness of New Biotechnologies. Newton Fund Early Career Researchers. Beijing, China. October 2019 (full bursary participant).
  • Higher Education and Societal Transformation: Decolonisation and Racial Equality. Newton Fund Early Career Researchers. Brasilia, Brazil. June 2019 (Full bursary participant).
  • The roadmap to echinococcosis control in Peru: review and synthesis of the evidence. Newton Fund Early Career Researchers. Lima, Peru. October 2018 (Full bursary participant).
  • Desigualdades sociales y desarrollo sostenible: Tensiones locales – nacionales – globales en territorios andinos. trAndes Spring School (Escuela de Primavera) Lima, Peru. October 2018 (bursary participant).
  • Anthropocene Campus 2018. Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. September 2018 (full bursary participant).
  • Historia de la ciencia, la tecnología y la salud desde y sobre el Perú. Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Peru (PUCP), Lima, Peru, June 2018
  • Towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC): Promoting and Responding to Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health (MNCAH). Newton Fund Early Career Researchers, Human Sciences Research Council. Johannesburg, South Africa. September 2017. (Full bursary participant).
  • Midwives and Birth Attendants Project. NAPA-OT (AAA) Field School, Antigua, Guatemala, June 2017.
  • “Inclusión Social Temprana y Protección al Derecho a la Salud”. FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales) Escuela de Verano, Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 2017
  • “Genero y sexualidad en América Latina”. CLACSO (Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales)/ University of Buenos Aires, Escuela de Verano, Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 2017.

Education History

  • PhD Medical Anthropology - University College London (2016-2020)
  • MRes Anthropology (Distinction) – University College London (2015-2016)
  • MA Anthropology of Development and Social Transformation (Distinction) – University of Sussex (2014-2015)
  • BSc Social Anthropology with Professional Development (First Class Honours) – Brunel University (2010-2014)

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • Migrants 2019 Small Grants, HRP/ TDR/ PAHO (Co-award with UCL IGH & UPCH CRONICAS), February 2020
  • IAS Octagon Small Grants Fund (co-award with Phoebe Martin), University College London, November 2019
  • Wellcome Trust Secondment Fellowship, UNFPA Peru, 2019
  • Wellcome Trust PhD Studentship in Medical Humanities, University College London, 2016-2020
Prizes & Scholarships
  • Winning Entry, American Anthropological Association 2020 Photographic Calendar, 2019
  • Shortlisted: ‘Woolly Embrace’, UCL Research Images as Art Exhibition, 2019
  • Chancellors Scholarship, University of Sussex, 2014-2015
  • Best Undergraduate Dissertation in Anthropology, Brunel University, 2014
  • Alumni Scholarship, Brunel University, 2010-2014

Current Employment/ Research

Wellcome Trust Secondment Fellowship (Collaboration with UNFPA Peru)

Project: Venezuelan Refugee access to Reproductive and Sexual Health Services in Peru: Understanding and Addressing the Need

Over half a million Venezuelan refugees have fled to Peru, leaving behind a country where medical services are in ruin and the people are in need. Hyperinflation led to the disappearance and/or unobtainable prices of contraceptives, for example the oral combined pill is widely unavailable in pharmacies and a pack of condoms costs over one-month’s wages (Gallegos, 2016:45). As such, unplanned pregnancy and STI/HIV risk have increased (Daniels, 2017). Tebolledo-Pontiesky et.al, (2018) further point out that the recent flood of Venezuelan migrants into Peru who require urgent HIV care has risen sharply and requires further investigation in order to best attend to these needs.

Peru has offered a temporary resident permit scheme (PTP) that ended in December 2018, inciting an influx of migrants towards the end of the year. The Peruvian medical system (MINSA) offers free health care to those with citizenship, but this is a bureaucratic hurdle that many Venezuelans are unable to jump for lack of appropriate documentation.

Working alongside UNFPA, this project will address the growing need and make policy recommendations to the Peruvian government to better serve the reproductive and sexual needs of the refugee population.

Main Project Questions & Aims:

  • If and how are Venezuelan refugees accessing reproductive health services (including family planning, STI & HIV diagnosis and treatment, and pregnancy care)?
  • Which services are absent or in need of further attention; How are refugees coping without these?
  • What changes are needed in policy and/or training in order to reach more refugees with the necessary services?