Maipelo Serudi is the typical queen of hearts. She believes in love, second chances and happily ever after. In a perfect world, she may not have been a paragon of virtue but she would be perched comfortably on a moral pedestal.
This however is not a perfect world and Maipelo is the butt of disparaging remarks.
“I have three kids, and they all have different fathers. I’m not some promiscuous woman who doesn’t know who her kids’ fathers are. Nor am I uneducated about birth control/protection. And I’m definitely not trying to get rich off child support. But I’m often judged for having children with different men and have my kids referred to as choice assorted.” says the mother of three.
Maipelo, a hair stylist by profession is an emblem of Batswana women’s complex and varied lives. They fall in and out of love. Birth control fails, relationships fail and they decide to continue the pregnancy for one reason or another. They try to build a life with someone only to have it fall apart. She is one of many women out there who have more than one child from different fathers and are being shamed and judged for it. Their families attract derogatory labels like “choice assorted”, “smarties”, “crayons” and many others which reflect their different patriarchal genealogies.
Poloko Ntshwarang a senior lecturer at the University of Botswana under the Department of Social Work who specializes in children and women, parenting and gender related issues says the problem “boils down to structural systems which have been there for a very long time some of which relate to cultural expectations and traditions.”
Ntshwaneng says, “in the case of a woman having kids with different men, it has been somewhat embedded in us by culture that a woman is supposed to be married then have kids hence having kids with the same man. She is expected to have one partner throughout her life to prove that she is not loose. It is never taken into consideration that her relationships have failed which can happen to anyone and that the fault wasn’t with her but maybe her partner. Or that she chooses to have hope and try her hand at finding love again.
There is always that cultural pressure that forces us conform to its norms and if we don’t, we are seen as outcasts or in this case society labels such women as loose or promiscuous. Childhood upbringings also play a role in such cases, if say a woman grew up being told that she would never have a man or wouldn’t amount to anything, when she gets older she has multiple men father her kids without realizing she does it unconsciously to try and prove to the people who told her she would never find a man.”
Society is evolving. The feminist movement has been trying to change the patriarchal mindset but are coming up against the twin juggernaut of religion and tradition which are both patriarchy and misogyny.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “The truth is social norms take forever to shift and there are some things that haven’t changed even during these times. It is engrained in patriarchal systems that to be fully woman/mother and to be fully respected you should conform and comply to patriarchal norms. Society still stigmatizes women with multiple fathers. People think: How did you get in this position? It’s irresponsible to be a mother with so many kids by different men. Women are being judged every day, women who are married and unmarried also still get judged and it is sad that in times like this when a lot of things are evolving women who have kids with multiple partners are labelled promiscuous.”