Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why infertility is a much bigger problem in Africa and India

I received a very touching email today.

" I am a Zimbabwean woman who has lived with infertility. Recently, I joined a local support group for women living with infertility called Chipo Chedu.

Of late, childless women have made headlines in our local newspapers for stealing babies from their unwary mothers and we feel that it is important for the childless people to develop positive and better ways of dealing with their problem.
Infertility and childlessness are conditions that have always carried social stigma and a subject not for discussion. Affected families have had to endure the agony on their own with little or no support from the society around them.

Divorce Rate is high amongst people living with infertility

Many childless homes are breaking. Zimbabwe is a patriarchal society and many childless couples are finding it difficult to cope with their own (and their extended families’) - hopes, expectations and pressure to have children. The problem has been especially acute for women who culturally have borne the brunt of the stigma, ostracisation and blame for childlessness in a home. Women without children suffer social rejection and are made to feel personally inadequate. The general belief is that people, particularly women who fail to bear children, are cursed and must be shunned and ostracized.

Promiscuity in childless marriages

Men as well as community at large have not made the burden any easier on the childless woman. Husbands have used infertility as an excuse for promiscuity and in some cases divorce. They openly bring home other women to "bear" them children while at the same time subjecting their partners to unspeakable physical and emotional abuse. Women in such relationships have found it almost impossible to turn to their families for support as it is believed the man is justified in his search for an heir to his name. Indeed even in relationships such as these the woman is unable to insist on protection as she is trying for a child and thus exposing her to infections. The childless woman is therefore in an even greater risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS.

Rape and Child Abuse in Childless marriages

Some couples resort to bringing in a young female relative, mainly the woman’s brother’s daughter (a niece). Culturally, a niece is considered as the husband’s wife (muramu in shona). These children are then raped by the husband in a bid to have children, with the blessings of the aunt as she is afraid of losing her marriage. The results of such an act are far reaching and until something is done to stop this practice, our culture is prefers to turn a blind eye.

Our Culture

Our culture must move with the times. There is need for pressure to bear on the man of Zimbabwe to acknowledge and take responsibility for Infertility as a condition that can affect them as well. There is need for the man of Zimbabwe to get involved in the search for answers as well as seeking coping strategies for living with and dealing with the issue of infertility in a home. For many years, male infertility has been regarded as a taboo subject, to be concealed at all costs. However, research has since revealed that

10-15% of couples world wide are unable to conceive a child.
94% of couples who are affected by infertility problems never seek medical help or do not have access to it
Among couples affected by infertility, 40% of cases are related to male issues, while female issues also make up 40% of cases.
20% are either combined male and female or cannot be explained.

Educate communities

Society as whole needs to be made to understand the pressures that arise from stigma and ostracism that the childless woman is exposed to. People affected by infertility experience a range of negative emotions such as depression, bitterness, resentment, anger, guilt and feelings of inadequacy, which have seen some women stealing babies from other women in order save their marriages and themselves from the shame of childlessness. Generally, ignorance, denial and discrimination are symptoms of lack of information. It is therefore our desire that our women and men of this country have access to high quality information that will assist them to make healthy choices and positive life decisions for themselves and their families

Elderly Care

The childless woman has no one to look after them in their years of infirmity. In our society for instance, it is the adult children who are a crucial source of care for the frail and old, especially for widowed and divorced people who cannot turn to spouses for help. Adult children are indeed the main source of income for the parents when they get old Because the government is unable to pay for social security or other support for the old, the children automatically become a retirement savings plan. It’s an obligation which the majority of children assume without question or complain. Who then looks after the childless woman or man? To make matters worse, upon the death of a spouse, the childless woman is sent away from the matrimonial home with nothing. Some end up as destitutes while others move back with their parents – if they are still alive. Government and its partners can help support our desire to set up centres where childless couples can live together with orphaned children in mutual support. "

I feel this will be an eye-opener to many infertile couples who live in more privileged societies. Not only is infertility a major personal crisis in India and Africa ( just as it is for any infertile woman anywhere in the world); it also has unique social overtones, as this letter points out so eloquently !

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