It is not African to not have children.
People use culture a lot to justify social pressure. “Culture” is what says that women should not wear short skirts or dresses, and if they do, men have the right to rape them. “Culture” also says that women mustn’t wear trousers, if they do, men can assault them. “Culture” condemns people for having subaltern sexual orientations or not following a mainstream religion. The same “culture” is used as a basis for the expectation of childbearing.
So, let me rephrase what I said before: it is seen as simply “unAfrican” to not have children: Part of your responsibility as a member of an African family, tribe, society is to reproduce. In my experience, it is seen as selfish, unnatural, or abnormal to not have the desire to have children. I keep hearing that all women have the desire to grow life- I have never, ever felt that desire. Not even a mild curiosity.
The burden of stigma is doubly felt by women: Although men are almost as likely to be infertile as women, most cultures place all of the blame on women if a couple doesn’t have children— and I don’t even believe that “blame” is something that belongs in a discussion about something like reproductive function.
In my experience, the justification for the expectation that I must reproduce is that it is African to have children. Whatever they do “outside” is because it’s “outside.” However, growing childlessness in the United States, Japan, and Germany is evidence of the opposite: That the decision to have or not to have children has nothing to do with your location, nationality, or race. These countries with widely differing cultures, traditions, and expectations all have an increasing number of people who are choosing not to breed. Just because you live in one of these countries, that doesn’t mean that the entire culture supports the choice not to become a parent. However, it hopefully reflect a growing acceptance for people to exercise control over their own bodies and lives; and hopefully a growing acceptance for people who for whatever reason are unable to have children.
For some people, raising a child does not rank highly on their priorities list, and there is nothing inherently incorrect or unAfrican about it. After all, people from all countries are able to reproduce, as are every animal and every species. The difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is that we are able to make conscious decisions about what is the best path for each of us to take. For some of us, not having children is the best path.
While those who are childfree are constantly castigated as being selfish, it seems to me that marks a lack of the understanding of the word. If it means “chiefly concerned with one’s own interest, advantage, etc. esp to the total exclusion of the interest of others,” how is it not selfish to try to force people to use their bodies in ways that they don’t want? The only person on earth whose body you have the right to control is your own— how is trying to take that right away from others not selfish? How is the decision to reproduce for your own advantage – you can’t be doing it for the wellbeing of an egg or a sperm— inherently more selfish than not creating a human being that doesn’t already exist?
It’s not about hating children— although if one does hate children it seems that’s a pretty good reason for them not to have them. Some children are awesome, and some of them are not, just like every other type of person in the world. Most are probably somewhere in between. I don’t hate children, and that makes me all the more aware that I shouldn’t become a mother—why would anyone want someone who doesn’t want to be a mother to become one?
I realize Africa is a huge continent with 54 countries, but there are certain expectations consistent across all of them. That’s why I’ve created this blog — as a space for Africans without children to talk about what it means to be both childfree and African, no matter where you are. If you have a story about being childfree and African, please share it in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.