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‘Womanhood is more than motherhood’
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DUBAI: At a recently-held regional conference in Dubai, top-level government and cause-oriented groups officials from Africa emphasised that women ought to be respected whether or not they bear children and raise families.

According to Uganda Minister of State of Health Sarah Opendi, Sierra Leone Minister of Health & Sanitation Zuliatu Cooper, National Council of Namibia chairman Margret Mensah-Williams, Zambia Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilugya, GIERAF (Scientific Society for the Study, Research, Prevention & Treatment of Infertility in Africa) president Dr Mohamed Latoundji and Africa Fertility Society president Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, men also ought to accept the reality that they are at times the cause of childlessness.

They expressed their strong views on infertility during the plenary session on “Merck More Than A Mother Panel” at the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (Figo) for Middle East and Africa Regional Congress” held at the Inter-Continental Hotel-Dubai Festival City.

It was a video clip on the domestic violence and near-death experience of 27-year-old Jackline Mwende Ngili from Massi, Kenya which set the tone of the discussions.

Still childless in 2013 after two years of marriage, Ngili was overpowered and remained defence-less against her infertile husband when he arrived home one night furious and chopped off both her hands.

The husband also tried to clobber her to death.

“He also tried to kill me by attacking me on the head…To me, all the ability to bear a child is all in God’s hands,” stated Ngili, who has since remarried, become a mother of one and a businesswoman through her own small village grocery store funded by the Merck Foundation which also provided her a home in order for her to move forward from her 2013 tragedy.

There are other Ngilis not only in Africa, but in other parts of the world such as in Cambodia, Bangladesh and Nepal, where the non-profit philanthropic arm of the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company has been reaching out with governments not only to heighten the awareness that infertility should no longer be a cause of ostracism and violence, but also to address the problem through public-private initiatives.

Merck Foundation chief executive officer/Merck More Than A Mother president Dr Rasha Kalej said the next target is Latin America.

Opendi agreed with a conference participant from Africa of the need to criminalise or enhance legislations on domestic violence.

The participant reasoned: “We cannot just interfere into gender-based violence.”

From the sidelines, Opendi related to The Gulf Today that in the initial stages of her advocacy to help solve domestic violence against women due to infertility, even her immediate official staff resisted the idea.

The panelists shared the arduous tasks they had gone through to break down centuries-old cultural and tribal norms against infertile women.

However, they believe there is a silver lining as evidenced by the strong public-private partnerships their governments have with the Merck Foundation.

Mensah-Williams stressed the importance of talking about the issue a lot in order to achieve behaviour change: “We need to have behaviour change.”

Ashiru said everyone has to be reminded that “Womanhood is more than motherhood. Women can achieve other things other than being a mother.”

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