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The Trials and Tribulations Facing the Childless Woman in Africa

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Having a child may be fulfilling, but it doesn't increase one's worth in any way. You are worthy, with or without a child. Click To Tweet

What defines a woman? To many people, it seems the definition of a woman goes beyond the biology of what makes a woman. In the African set-up, womanhood goes hand in hand with marriage and childbearing. You can’t be a woman and fail to marry or give birth. It’s a fundamental requirement. To a large extent, a woman’s worth is tied to their ability to meet these expectations.

So, what happens when a woman can’t give birth? In search of an answer, I shifted through dozens of interviews around this subject. From Cape Town to Kampala to Ghana, two themes stood out.

Firstly, women are the only ones held responsible when a couple can’t bear a child. This usually comes with hostility and resentment. Secondly, childlessness is a sure sign that a woman is worthless.

The emotional impact of infertility

Wanting a child but not being able to have one causes deep emotional suffering that is unfathomable. Millions of women in Africa are part of a culture that equates their worth to their ability to give birth. Since this has been drummed in girls’ heads since childhood, it becomes a huge struggle when one fails to deliver on what is naturally expected of them. The emotional turmoil is further compounded by societal pressure.

Childless women are discriminated against, seen as a burden, and stigmatized. Family members compel the husband to take another wife for the sake of ensuring a continued lineage. In some cultures, these women experience domestic abuse, divorce and are even driven out of their homes.

The social stigma that comes with childlessness has led many women into depression and suicide. All because they are treated as lesser beings, incomplete.

Demystifying the concept of childlessness

Statistics say that over 50 Million couples worldwide suffer from infertility. In East Africa, 30% of women suffer from infertility. The reasons for infertility are diverse, ranging from medical conditions to obesity to hormonal imbalance and many other factors. However, society is hell-bent on accusing childless women of witchcraft and abortion. Such accusations add insult to the already bleeding wound.

For me, the question has always been, who is the giver of children? What did the woman who has children do better or different from the childless woman? It could be they spoke in a code language to their god. Perhaps it’s their exceptional character or their inherent motherly ability that childless women seem to lack. And, of course, society has managed to convince them that they are better off because they’ve checked the required boxes. Kudos!

While I would join the party and celebrate you, I have to burst your bubble first. Children are a blessing. However, none of us has the power to create a child. Moreover, having a child may be fulfilling, but it doesn’t increase one’s worth in any way. You are worthy, with or without a child.

We always assume that women are the problem when a couple struggles to give birth. While it could be true in some cases, there many other cases where men also struggle with infertility. In Africa, the prevalence rate of infertility among men ranges from 20%-35%. 

Marriage is for companionship and love, children are the icing on the cake.

When you don’t have the icing, do you take the cake and throw it in the bin? You don’t. But that’s exactly what many of us are doing. We dismantle the cake, complain of its tastelessness, and even ridicule the bakers. What a shame!

Childless women are already going through a lot. If you can’t add some positive vibe to their journey, don’t be part of the problem.

Also, some women are consciously deciding to be child-free. While this is contrary to the belief that has been passed on for generations, it’s not in our place to question their choices or offer unsolicited adviceLet’s come to terms with the idea that there is nothing wrong with choosing to be child-free. Motherhood doesn’t define womanhood. As a woman, you are complete just as you are, with or without children.

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