Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Botswana’s abortion Lady Justice is a feminist

To conceive a child, it certainly takes two to tango. Surprisingly, although it is almost a cultural article of faith that after paying lobola, Batswana men own their wives’ bodies and reproductive rights, pregnancy and abortion still have a woman’s face.

University of Botswana Social Work Senior Lecturer Dr Poloko why Batswana men often feel that they do not have a role to play in decisions about abortion even though they are responsible for the pregnancy.

“Men are indeed also affected by abortion, its only that our society has created a situation where parenting has been gendered and has been seen as a woman’s role. Parenting practices are affected an influenced by various factors. It’s important to highlight that, even in the way the issue of abortion is discussed reflects on how the society has created it- the woman is the primary parent than the man while the man has been assigned the role of the provider. We see this more when the woman is pregnant, she tends to think of herself more or is more protective of the life she is carrying and which would explain why the man is always neglected whether it is with the abortion or anything else regarding a woman’s pregnancy because the woman feels that the responsibility lies solely with her. Its only in recent years that men are now stepping up to become fathers because child maintenance laws are strict on them but most just parent from afar which further makes women take on the sole responsibility. As a man who would have loved to have a child it would understandably affect him if their unborn child gets aborted and it is unfair to think men don’t hurt because they would equally be as traumatized as the woman.”

When it comes to abortion in Botswana, Lady Justice is a feminist. Abortion in Botswana is only legal if it will save the woman’s life, if the pregnancy gravely endangers the woman’s physical or mental health, or if it is a result of rape or incest. Men on the other hand are closed out of what is universally deemed a ‘women’s issue.

When the woman decides to have an abortion, there isn’t much his partner can do. This is the tragic reality that many Batswana men have to deal with.

A lot of Batswana men bear scars of abortion, and often suffer in silence.  Talking about abortion is an even greater taboo for men than for women. If a man wants to shed a tear, he does it privately. If he feels that the abortion had denied him his child, he works it through himself. Typical male grief includes remaining silent and grieving alone. During this silence a man often harbors feelings of guilt and doubts about his inability to protect himself and his unborn child. Some become depressed and or anxious.

Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks in Gaborone says, “Regardless of one’s position on the issue, abortion decisions are painful and difficult which bring lasting consequences. In spite of the gravity of such decisions, choices need to be made within a short time and with limited information. Too often, men and women do not properly communicate their fears and desires and as a result, an abortion decision is made which neither partner is satisfied with. Men tend to withhold their thoughts and desires concerning pregnancy outcomes and instead give the decision entirely to their partners as they perceive such behavior as “supporting” them. It is often observed that men repress their own emotions because they believe that it is the most appropriate way to care for their partners. Unfortunately, the decision to abort is often not what either of them wants but is the result of a failure of communication between men and women trying to cope with the crisis of unplanned pregnancy.”

In the past, a woman often sought an abortion because her partner refused to assume responsibility for the child. It was thought that women were the ones who wanted babies while men wanted their freedom. Although there are still stories about men who abandon their pregnant girlfriends, more and more men want to be involved in everything regarding their offspring. Men grieve privately than women. Abortion has its own rules about loss – support women in their choice, keep it secret and get over it. Secret losses, especially those which are permanent like abortion, keep men from grieving and can be the source of unwanted and unacceptable behavioral change. Although abortion certainly affects women more than men, it does take two to conceive.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.