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Sorry: being a man doesn’t make you automatically fertile

By Nina Steele 

Childless African menFor the past 3 months, I have been getting occasional emails from a gentleman in Africa. I mentioned him in a previous article. He is in his late 30s, and in his own words, has never been married, nor has he had any children. He wants me to hook him up with a childless Western woman, preferably a white woman between the ages of 29 and 36, and from Canada. In his last email to me, he dropped his requirement that the woman ought to be from Canada, and instead, he mentioned his willingness to have children with whoever the woman turns out to be. It is the casual way in which he refers to having children that caught my attention. As if it was a foregone conclusion.

The main reason why the stigma of childlessness is so great in Africa, is because of this assumption that all men are fertile. And so inevitably, when a couple is unable to conceive, the finger of blame is automatically pointed at the woman. Never mind that in truth, as figures suggest, in 50% of cases when a couple is unable to conceive, it is because the man is infertile.

Because a man’s fertility is taken for granted, no man wants to be found to be infertile. The shame is too great for them to bear, and so, most men in these situations would rather pretend to be the biological fathers of children they know is not theirs, than for their infertility to become public knowledge. There are stories after stories of women who upon suspecting that their husbands might be the reason why they are unable to have children, have secretly had affairs and have ended up having children that way. Some women have come forward and told me that they were prepared to do anything to have a child, including having an affair, because doing nothing means their lives would be hell.

That is exactly what happened to Jacqueline Mwende, the Kenyan woman who had her hands cut off by her husband, because the couple were unable to conceive, 7 years after getting married. It didn’t matter that he knew that his infertility was the reason why they were unable to conceive. This had already been confirmed by doctors.

Thankfully, because this issue is now being discussed openly, as opposed to being swept under the carpet, many African men are now accepting that infertility affects both men and women. So much so that, some of the men who felt too ashamed to come forward before, are now opening up about their conditions. One man wrote about his Azoospermia on the BBC Africa facebook page a few months ago, as a direct result of the series of discussions the BBC had started on the issue. That is a welcome change, and I hope more men will come forward.

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