Gender Gender

Beating infertility out of her: A Zambian paradox

DOMESTIC violence is a scourge that is faced by many women worldwide irrespective of age, education, religion, class and ethnicity. Although it is a worldwide phenomenon, causes of domestic violence vary from place to place.

In many communities in Zambia, the inability of a woman to bear children is one of the major causes of domestic violence. She is also expected to bear the ‘right kind’ of children.
To have female children only is considered an offence that may lead to the “offending’ wife being replaced by another woman.
Although infertility is universally devastating, its social consequences are perhaps most severe in African cultures.
In Zambia, infertility is seen as an inability or even a curse, and women who cannot conceive face devastating stigma as well as battery from their spouses.
Worldwide, both men and women do suffer from infertility, but culturally, infertile women are at risk of social stigma.
Infertility comes with devastating effects like loss of marital stability, loss of social status and isolation, loss of social security and general emotional distress.
Violence against infertile women has become an issue that needs to be sufficiently addressed.
Failure to have children has brought about a rise in domestic violence, resulting in injury, death, and mental harm, lack of development or deprivation.
Much as infertility is a health condition, it is a social problem too, judging from the perspective of the individual concerned, healthcare providers and the society at large.
Health experts say infertility refers to failure of a couple to establish pregnancy after one year of having unprotected and adequate sexual intercourse.
In Zambia, infertility is deeply associated with socio-cultural factors, thus, beyond the clinical definition, it may have varying cultural definitions.
Culturally, infertility does not always refer to an inability to give birth to a child. Inability to have the desired number of children, not having sons or not being pregnant soon after the commencement of sexual activity constitute infertility within some cultures.
A fulfilled marriage is expected to be characterised by a homestead full of children.
In the light of this prescription, failure of married persons to produce children is perceived as abnormal, particularly in the Zambian context where children are presumably the major reason for marriage.
Of special interest is that women are often made to bear the brunt of infertility even when the problem cannot be traced to any reproductive problem in a woman’s body.
The woman is always blamed for this predicament. A central difficulty associated with infertility is that it can transform from an acute, private distress into a harsh, public stigma with complex and devastating consequences.
Some infertile women endure stress occasioned by their husbands or families, and some victims may suffer different diseases like diabetes or hypertension.
To address this challenge, certain factors have to be put in place like empowering infertile couples with infertility medical education and trainings. When men are involved, they come to an understanding of the gender issues involved and become partners in the campaign against domestic violence.
Bringing women, men and communities together to discuss issues around gender attitudes and roles, gender-based violence and gender inequality can bring about the much- needed change in communities. Until next week, remember, infertility is not only a woman’s issue.
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