A friend, who was about to get married, once confessed, “I just want to have children”.
I admit I was sceptical about her getting married, but some things are not even a friend’s place to say. Marrying for the sake of procreation is a bit linear for my taste. Yet, it is reflective of the community we live in.
While girls are scolded by their parents for innocent friendships with boys, young women are pestered to find a husband. In the end, as an unmarried woman’s age pushes the ‘wrong’ side of 30 or 40, she becomes the subject of endless conversations for all the wrong reasons.
All of a woman’s accomplishments end with a sucking on the lips followed by a soft remark of “You know she’s not married? She doesn’t even have children.”
Women’s bodies and their ability, incapacity or unwillingness to bear a child become an open discussion for all.
To be frank, most women would like to have a child one day while the reason for taking a journey down the path of motherhood varies little.
An elderly mother once said to me about her daughter, “I wish she could just at least get pregnant.”
It is almost comical to think that most Ethiopian young girls having innocent friendships with boys at school are frowned upon, and a few years down the road the best their family could wish for them is to at least bear children out of wedlock.
Couples, soon after their marriage, are grilled on their childbearing prospects. This question haunts the couple at family events or relaxing get-togethers by relatives, close friends and strangers alike. Upon having one child, they win a few pats on the back, until of course the parents come back looking for more grandchildren. Society, it seems, is never satisfied with the number of children one could have. It almost seems everyone is hell-bent on creating their own miniature armies.
Africa’s development has been the narrative for a good while now. It has made many of us a little too eager to embrace an Africa akin to our Utopian ideals. We as Africans crave for the exploitation of the continent to end and the path to prosperity to begin. And there is some hope of this. Growth in sub-Saharan Africa is picking up to 2.6pc from what was 1.4pc last year, according to a 2017 report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But even with this good news, the report somberly noted that the rapid population growth in Africa overshadows the development rate.
Numbers and statistics though do not tell the whole truth – whom this burden mostly affects. Sitting at a restaurant with my family, we notice a big dinner taking place. A company had invited its employees to celebrate a prosperous year.
As 8pm approached my mother observed, “look the women are leaving early. The women always leave early to take care of their children, while the men have the freedom to stay.”
Women are encouraged in most societies to bear children while that same society fails to build a community that supports them.
Why should women constantly have to choose between a career and motherhood? Why must childbearing not be a choice rather than a societal burden?
In a book I read a while ago, a traditional healer talked about her herbal remedies to the many ills a person might have. When asked if she could cure infertility, she replied that she could, but only of women’s as no man thinks childlessness is his fault. While I do not believe men can be that obtuse, I could almost think they can be that stubborn. And society does not punish them for it except to point its finger at the gender that it always incorrectly deems responsible. Although there are many sensitive to the plight of women, there is still a long way to go to create an Ethiopia just as comfortable for them.
We are born. Those lucky enough go to school, study at a university, get a job, get married, have children and grandchildren and finally die. Our lives have become a series of mediocre wish lists, rarely lived in greatness.
Having a child is a wonderful gift. But it is essential that it be a gift the individual chooses. Communities should work towards a supportive system for families. Fight against policies and ideologies that do not encourage fathers to connect with their children and a mother to get back on her career track. A family is a unit. It must never be only mothers who have the responsibility to keep their family together. Thriving in life for a woman should never be in spite of motherhood.
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