There is a question that has been puzzling me for a week or more, and I can think of no better place to find answers than right here. I’ll be asking you all to put on your Mma Ramotswe power-of-observation-caps, grab a cup of red bush tea and help come to the bottom of this mystery.
It was alleged on a certain radio show in Ghana recently that more women are choosing childbirth over marriage – or at least delaying the latter for longer periods than we’ve seen before. This trend, it seems, is worrying. Personally, there are a number of women in my circle who have made this choice (to have babies on their own) and are much happier for it. However, anecdotally I know that they are the exception and far off from becoming the rule.
Or are they?
The benefits of marriage do and have always largely favored men. Even marriages governed by the rules of feminism are not completely insulated from the rules and affects of patriarchy, with some women succumbing to societal pressure to quit their work in favor of full-time care of dependents (i.e. children or ageing parents); an expectation to take on more housework; delaying self/professional development aspirations; or to hand over total control of the family’s finances to the husband. It’s little wonder that the question, “How do you manage to juggle your career and being a wife and mother?” arises so often. Global culture makes vigorous demands of womanhood.
So, the idea that there are women who are bold enough to eliminate one factor from that equation that never really finds its balance – i.e. opting out of or delaying marriage intrigues me.
I live on the Garden Route in South Africa, and what I have witnessed in Black, white and the small Indian population settled here is that there is indeed a high rate of single motherhood. However, this doesn’t present itself as the empowered woman gallantly choosing her offspring’s features from a database at a sperm bank, but rather as a result of conception before a break up or rendered after a divorce. These come with their own implications, and few of them are positive for the child or the mother.
My personal opinion is that it would be wonderful for more women to be able to choose childbirth in lieu of marriage. In order to make that determination, it would mean that girls/women are given expanded economic opportunities, that work that is generally considered “female” (like retail or caregiving) is being rewarded at a livable wage, and that the stigma against single parenthood has finally met its death. The reality is that fertility has a specific and narrow window, whereas one has a lifetime to search for the perfect mate. In a society where (in this case I refer to Ghana where the radio program was aired) the idea of marriage is one wherein a man is to be cooked for and submitted to – rather than an egalitarian situation in which both parties feel fulfilled – it should come as little surprise that the divorce rate is on an uptick or that women in particular are bowing out of the institution until they can find a compatible mate.
Since biology is at odds with societal norms, it is masterful and bold that women would re-write their rules to make biology work in their favor. My question is, have you noticed an increase in women making this decision consciously where you live, or is the idea just a figment of a social media commenter’s imagination?
Photo credit: BBC