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I have immense respect for women choosing to do things their way regardless of their environment

By Nina Steele 

Happy childless womanI came across a video on Facebook recently. It was of a woman from Cameroon. She was sharing her experience of being a 31-year-old childless woman in a culture where women her age are expected to be married with children. She says in the video that instead of following in the footsteps of other women, she chose to have an education instead, and for that reason, she was viewed as an anomaly.

She also mentioned the experience of her deceased sister who was married with children and desperately unhappy until the end. Listening to her, I could not help thinking of similar brave women across the world, some of whom have shared their stories on this website.

I think we will all agree that in spite of some changes in recent years, women are still expected to live their lives a certain way. If you dig deeper, you will see that not very much has changed, particularly for women in the developing world.

I still remember a man I used to know back in the Ivory Coast in the mid-1990s. He was then in his 50s. He had never married and had no children. He was part of a group of very successful men and the only one who was unmarried and childless. Yet, I cannot recollect anyone seeing his bachelor status as an issue, on the contrary. I don’t even for a moment think that the same open mindedness would have been accorded to a woman. Sadly, the same reality applies today. An unmarried and childless man, regardless of his age, is generally left alone while a woman is vilified.

How often do we come across articles about successful women with no children that are positive? Usually, what you get is their success being downplayed and their personal lives being made centre stage. The articles are often written in a way that implies that the women have left it too late to have children and for that reason their success has come at a heavy price.

We have been conditioned to believe that it’s acceptable for a man to not have children but not a woman. Which is why I salute women who are brave enough to publicly declare their choice to the world. We all know how vicious social media can be, particularly when it comes to women. The video of the woman in Cameroon will be viewed by people across the world and inevitably, there will be those traditionalists who will feel threatened by her message. I should know. I came under attack on Facebook when I first reached out to Africans. A man from Nigeria said I was encouraging African women not to have children. There were many others like that. I brushed it all off and carried on. I hope that the woman in the video does the same if faced with similar criticism.

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