I know we talk about empowering women or in this case African women but I believe that this is not quite the right term. Empowering sounds like giving them the power to do something; when in actual fact, they already had the power. Circumstances might cause women to forget their power or to not use it, but the power is already within them. Therefore, I prefer to see it as nurturing the power they already have so that they can blossom, and in doing so use that power to effect wonderful changes in their lives, and those of their families and society.
Why is this important?
When African women are discussed, it is usually in the context of our reproductive rights and economic development. The most common argument is the really old one about how women need to have fewer kids so that we can develop our society; and how we need access to abortion and contraceptives because that is the only way we can develop ourselves and help our societies. Well, I have been in the fertility space for several years now supporting African mums and mums-to-be and I still believe that something is missing from this discussion.
On the one hand, I understand that childbearing can reduce women’s ability to work outside the home (unless she has good quality childcare). To think that this is not true is to be incredibly naive. Most mums will agree that having their babies meant trying to juggle careers and childcare and sometimes careers suffer.
On the other hand, every woman has a right to the number of children she feels called to have. Not the number stipulated by foreign governments, not stipulated by their own governments, not stipulated by society, family and friends, and not stipulated by church or any religious order because at the end of the day, only the woman knows how many kids she can really afford to have.
The Papal encyclical ‘Familiaris Consortis’ talks about ‘responsible fertility’; and I believe that includes having kids in a way that does not drain the woman physically, emotionally and financially qualifies but it also include getting pregnant or planning her family in a way that doesn’t leave her at the mercy of toxic chemicals and procedures.
And this brings me to what I believe is the crucial point. The person who suffers in the midst of this argument is the African woman. Everybody wants to help her but I have a feeling that no one is really listening to her.
The truth is many African women want both; we want to have kids and support our societies; we don’t want to have to choose. But at the same time, we want to do it in a way that brings out the best in us. At the moment:
- We are having to struggle to have healthy babies; forget about the picture of African women having eight children, many African women are struggling to have even one or two children.
- We are struggling to plan our families and are at the mercy of hormonal contraceptives that harm our health.
- We are struggling to contribute to the upkeep of their home.
- We want to build careers because we know that we have a lot to offer our society but we are struggling to do so while remaining wives and mothers.
The discussion is no longer whether woman should have x number of kids to ‘develop’ Africa, or whether they need abortion and contraceptives. We need to go beyond that and understand that African women do want to have their families and develop their societies but we need to do this on our own terms.
We need to do this in a way that helps us to be healthy, happy and fulfilled simply because we are worth it and we certainly deserve it. We are God’s beautiful creation and perhaps more to the point, it is the only way we can give our best because no one can give what they don’t have. If you want a healthy society, then we need to nurture our women, it is really as simple as that.
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Founder of Cherie Mamma & Holistic Fertility Therapist