Slightly over a month back, 27 year old Kenyan woman Jackline Mwende suffered the brutality of domestic violence when her husband of 7 years, Stephen Ngila chopped off her hands after a gruesome machete attack in their home. Reason behind the attack; In their marriage period, Mwende had not borne him any children.
However, the story takes a turn for the worse when it came to light that the root cause behind the couple not having any children was in fact due to Ngila’s infertility. This had been previously proven at a clinical facility. But being an African man sadly with the chauvinistic thinking that men cannot fail to produce offspring, Ngila went ahead and attacked his wife. Slashing her across the face and back then chopping off both of her hands.
It was a tale that left a sour taste in the mouth and got men and women alike outraged and speaking up against it. Women leaders visited Mwende in her father’s home where she was recuperating and later, in hospital where companies pledged to come to her aid with prosthetic limbs and a decent monthly stipend.
Mwende may have gotten a great deal of help after her ordeal but her limbs are not going to be the same again. The scars she now bears will often be a cruel reminder to her, how brutal domestic violence and patriarchy can often times turn out to be.
But was the pressure to bear children only coming from her husband Ngila? I can’t help but ask.
With all due respect to both families involved in the aforementioned , I will choose not to use them as a reference point for my argument. However, I will choose to look at the African societal set up instead.
In Africa, children have often been associated with being a source of wealth. Indeed parents who bore many children in the olden times needed not worry for it was assumed that they would have helpers in old age. We may have moved from the olden, primitive times but Africans still hold on to the notion that children are especially important in a marriage to complete the family unit.
It is not entirely uncommon to find African women who have faced enough castigation from in-laws simply for the sole reason that they had not borne their son a child/children. Many African families equally value the boy child and an African woman in such a familial set up would give birth to as many as 6 or 7 or 8 children just looking for a boy.
The fear often being that if she does not bear her husband a boy child, then he will definitely go in search of another woman to marry who can give him boys. These things are happening up to date in African society. I reside in Nairobi myself, the hub of East Africa, a capital city and I still encounter stories of real life educated people, who are actively seeking to conceive boy children as if the girl children they have are not human enough.
The pressure from the parents of the husband and sometimes, from those of the wife not doing much to help matters. The idea behind this usually being that the grandparents yearn to see their grandchildren which they consider a blessing to live up to the point of seeing children of your children.
Often times, these aged parents may not see how much their demands may be affecting a couple trying unsuccessfully to conceive. I mean, why do you think rogue pastors in African society are raking in big bucks just from offering false hope to childless couples? It is this pressure for grandchildren sometimes leading to sarcastic remarks from in laws directed many times to the woman and the husband being urged to get a fertile wife to bear him children.
There are many African women who have been cast aside by their husbands because the family had no children. In Africa, unlike the West, you cannot just decide not to have children as a woman. Society expects you to have children by a certain age. As a woman fast approaching my late twenties, I nowadays frequently encounter individuals who assume I’m already a mother. Not that it bothers me. As a matter of fact, I chuckle at their assumptions for I identify it as an African thing.
However, the tragedy behind this pressure for children/grandchildren is that African women get blamed for there not being the existence of offspring. Africans do not believe that a man can be infertile even if medical tests prove so. There’s this often stupid belief that African men are fertile, studs in bed. If there are no children, then it definitely has to be the woman. She has to be blamed. She has to be punished for it. She deserves to be added another wife who will bear children.
It is a backward belief. A chauvinistic kind of thinking that makes many African men shy away from infertility treatment. They just don’t want to face and admit the fact that the problem can be both ways and that there is nothing wrong with that. Treatment of either party addressing the underlying issue can solve this. They instead choose to ride on the wave of a false belief of an African man being powerful enough sexually to produce children.
So you can already tell how much mental torture an African woman goes through if she does not get children within an expected period in marriage. The husband may even justify the domestic violence with the fact that “Mwanamke amekataa kunizalia” (A woman has refused to bear me children). As if a normal functioning woman with motherly instincts may just make an intentional decision to irk her husband by not getting any children.
As a modern woman who has become exposed to other societal views, I think that the decision to have children by a couple should be theirs alone. I also urge African men to open their minds to the world of medicine. Infertility can be both ways. There is no shame in it. There is medical help for it. Bearing children is not only a woman’s thing. When two people come together with the intention of conceiving, it is a joint decision. The child will bear both of their DNAs.
How ironic that African children are considered to belong to the father yet when it comes to matters conceiving and family planning, it is the woman who is often blamed or tasked with that? Food for thought, per se.