Women are made to feel they have not done things at the right age. Not married at 30? No children at 40? The pressures affect women’s self image. Women feel obliged to dye their hair. Age is a visible issue, others define you negatively if you look older, women much more so and much earlier than men. Women can overcome some of the disadvantages of age stereotyping by looking younger as long as they can. (Itzin and Newman 1995:86)
The quotation above though was written as part of research findings on European women sixteen years ago but still applies even today on African women or, rather, on women in general.
There are stereotypes embedded in our tradition that are almost impossible to get rid of or to ignore. Women reaching the age of thirty without stable relationships get worried of becoming single forever or of being termed career women or Emang Basadi.
At this age society’s expectation is that one should be married with kids. The elders will normally get worried if it is otherwise and start asking questions with the view that there might be a problem and the possibility that one might be sterile.
Other than that, blame is otherwise put on witchcraft practices of the old woman next door.
In many cases, however, this is a personal choice. Some women choose to build a career and have a stable life before introducing another life into this world while others choose to have families before they have careers. Some women though succumb to the demands and pressures of society and decide to do as society dictates. Such children born out of desperation are the ones that are left in the rural areas with grandmothers or the ones who are exposed to that abusive maid who eats all the purity and starves the poor child.
This would be a result of poor family planning, – a child born out of wedlock to meet society’s expectation and demands. Some women are too religious; they are the woman of faith who succumb to the myth that sex before marriage is sin. This are the ‘sisters’ we find at churches, the Pentecostal churches to be specific, who, in the actual fact, cannot be one hundred percent free from sexual activities but would rather prefer to live by the ‘children before marriage is sin’ rule with the fear that should it happen that they bear children before marriage, they would be called the Marys ÔÇô impregnated by the holy spirit.
There are also perceptions and believes in the traditional African culture that women mature earlier than men hence in the olden days men would marry women three times younger than them or at birth, the girl child was reserved for the old rich man in the village as part of the cultural practices with the believe that she would grow to satisfy and take care of the old man, both sexually and otherwise, even in his old age. Nowadays however, a lot of youngsters marry women who are older as emphasis that ‘age is nothing but just a number’.
The law of Botswana on marriages tries to maintain a gender balance. The Marriage Act 18 of 2001 Section 15 dictates that “no minor or persons below the age of 21 years, not being a widower or widow, may marry without the consent in writing of her parents or guardian”.
This is a welcome move as it does not discriminate against women or men. Both are taken as equals in that the law appreciates that at the age of twenty one, either males or females are old enough to take responsibility of starting a family and making independent decisions. Some of the religious entities according to their constitutions have laid down rules to be followed that govern the lifestyle of their members; for instance, one church permits women to get married at the age of twenty one while men can marry at the age of twenty four. This fuels gender imbalances that the nation is trying to fight and calls for legislators to work together with religious institutions in bridging this gender gap only then can gender equality be achieved.
There are a lot of factors that should be taken into consideration to help eliminate these age stereotypes or rather that the same stereotypes attributed to women are attributed to men as well.
The World Health Organisation website indicates that the life expectancy of male: female is 59/62 as in 2009 and indexmundi.com indicates that male life expectancy in Botswana currently is 58.78 years while women are at 57.3 years.
The difference between the two figures is not that much, which is an indication that both men and women in this life are at risk of growing old at a younger age or both have a shorter life span.
As both men and women grow up, chances of infertility increase due to the behavioural patterns of most youngsters that are characterised by multiple concurrent partners, alcoholism and substance abuse.
According to Talk Back, a lifestyle programme that focuses on youth in schools, it has been shown that this pattern of behaviour is rife and eminent in schools, which means that the use is started at a very early age.
Both men and women alike then become factors of alcoholism and are prone to sexually transmitted infections that can lead to early ageing and reduction or loss of libido or result completely in infertility, especially men. In this case, a man reaching the age of 35 should no longer be seen as still capable hence the believe that ‘life begins at 40′ because as he grows old, chances are that his chances of bearing children are being reduced.
Biology states that it is important to note that sperm production is temperature dependant hence overheating can lower sperm count. Given the high temperatures in this country that men are exposed to in freedom squares, the many men in the force on patrol, the many traffic cops on the roads and the security guards in the parking lots, chances are they may be affected by the radiation from the sun hence low sperm count which may result in infertility.
Body temperature may also increase due to the junk and fatty foods that most people eat nowadays, resulting in more body fat that when overheating due to any activity, like driving for instance, which may affect sperm production.
People today are also obsessed with making money. The youths of today are encouraged to be entrepreneurs, which takes most of their time, resulting in lack of spare time for a healthy family, hence a choice not to have one.
By taking all the points above into account it is very important to note that it is time to deal away with age stereotyping of women only as these can also be attributed to men: men at the age of 30 without kids are likely not to have any at all; those at 40 and not married have less chances of so doing as life does not begin at 40 anymore; both men and women use skin products to prevent ageing due to the many factors of life they are exposed to.