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No wonder women without children are stigmatised

By Nina Steele 

Childless middle aged womenAnother year, another sets of statistics reminding us of the number of women who have reached the end of their childbearing years without having produced a child. That age is 45, if you care to know. What is glaringly missing in this yearly spotlight on childlessness, are statistics showing the number of men without children. The underlying message is that society does not need to know about men who do not have children, only women.

No wonder then that women are often vilified for not having children. By focusing entirely on women without children, as opposed to having a healthy gender balanced approach to the issue, we are reinforcing long held assumptions about the role of women in society. Never mind that we now have women competing effectively with men in all walks of life, our role is still being reduced to child bearing.

When Andrea leadsom made her now infamous remarks about Theresa May not being fit for the job of Prime Minister because she has no children, there was an uproar, and rightly so. But of course, she made those remarks because she was well aware of society’s obsession with children. Visit the online pages of any tabloid newspaper and you will see endless reference to pregnant celebrities. They are lauded just for being pregnant, as if being pregnant is the height of a woman’s achievement.

Time and time again, women without children, who have made something of their lives and are paying their fair share of taxes, have been made to feel ‘incomplete’ because they are not mothers. With this in mind, even people who have never done a day’s work in their lives, think that they are better than these women, just because they have children. They post vile comments online, calling those successful women every name under the sun.

It matters that the world is reminded regularly of the number of men out there without children, be it by choice or circumstance. According to the World Health Organisation, in 50% of cases where a couple is unable to conceive, it’s because the man is infertile. Yet in certain parts of the world, like Africa, the woman automatically gets the blame whenever a couple is unable to have children.

There was a case recently of a woman in Kenya who had her hands cut off by her husband because they were still childless after 7 years of marriage. The tragedy of the story is that the husband still blamed the wife for their lack of progeny even though the couple were told by doctors that his infertility was the reason why they could not have children.

That’s what you get when the spotlight is always on women. If we want to stop women being vilified for not having children, we need to start focusing on men without children as well.

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