One of the biggest honours you can confer on a Motswana woman is to address her by prefixing Mma (mother) to the name of her first child. The nomenclature is meant to separate the women from the girls. In Botswana’s pronatal society where womanhood and motherhood are synonymous identities childless woman have fallen through the cracks so much so that even language police have forgotten all about them. While there is a politically correct term for almost all minorities; “sex worker” instead of “hooker” or “people with disabilities” instead of “disabled persons”, there is no PC for childless women. They are fair game. A woman in her thirties or forties who does not have a child attracts gossip like: “She must have committed so many abortions that her womb has turned into a graveyard and cannot produce anymore children.” Uncomplimentary labels like witch, selfish, damaged, cold-hearted, shallow, overeducated and greedy are usually thrown at them.
Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says society is still surprised at the idea of women who choose not to have children. “Some women are childless by choice, others by circumstance. People don’t seem to realize that women who are childless by choice often mother in other ways, ways that can go unrecognized by all but those who benefit from them. They step mother and actively aunt or foster. Anyone who has ever shared the burdensome role of parent or been mothered by such a voluntary mother will understand how desperately necessary this kind of mothering is.” She says childless women might not be mothers but they are people too.
Childlessness is perceived as the “final female taboo,” and women who choose not to become mothers are often considered selfish or career-obsessed. Women are still expected to conform to gender stereotypes and are criticized and punished when they don’t. The masculinity of a childless man is rarely called into question whereas motherhood is perpetually linked with femininity.
Millenials are however bucking this trend. A growing number is delaying marriage and having kids in order to focus on things like education, career, personal growth and financial stability, a few others have chosen to forgo motherhood altogether. Yet many people still consider the decision to forgo parenthood as not only abnormal and surprising, but also morally wrong.
Botho Meriting an IT specialist in Gaborone says children are not in the great life plan. “Some women want to have kids, some don’t, and it doesn’t make me any less of a woman. Not having children affords me the freedoms I cherish – travelling, spending quality time with my partner, a disposable income, getting out of bed whenever I choose. At 36, I’m sure I won’t be changing my mind. I don’t hear a biological clock ticking or see a window of opportunity closing.” She says, the fact that she doesn’t want children doesn’t mean she doesn’t adore them.
Tumi Seamogano a merchandising officer at a retail store in Gaborone says people should stop treating childless women like they don’t matter. “Even though the world is changing and people are becoming more accepting of different types of family units, people still make assumptions about women of a certain age who don’t have kids, if they haven’t got children yet they’re going to ask why. I have capable, successful friends of mine who don’t have children because they don’t want them. Some have never felt the maternal urge. Others have learned to value the benefits of a life unencumbered by sleepless nights or sports days or the availability of the local babysitter on any given evening.”