Children were considered a sign of wealth in ancient Rwanda. A woman who had the ability to have children was considered by society as a blessing, but the story was different for those who couldn’t give birth. This was the case not only in Rwanda, but in many African societies.
Having children was not an option, but more of a societal obligation, especially on the side of women.
However, this is changing with some women in modern day society opting to remain childless due to varying reasons- a choice that is often labelled as ‘vain and selfish’.
But should this be the case or should women have a choice to have or not have children?
Grace Ubaruta, a lawyer and African Union youth volunteer, says her take on women who choose to be childless is in two dimensions. One is in the sense of human rights or freedom of a woman to give birth or not, and the other context is a socio economic factor.
She says, every person has a right to be a parent, or to find a family, which is as well granted by the Rwandan constitution for there’s no legal obligation for a woman who decides not to have a child.
Talking about social pressure, in old Rwandan tradition, a woman not having children was a serious case, probably because her respect from society depended on the mere fact that she had to have a family (children and husband), she explains.
“But as the world is evolving with more civilisation, a woman should not be frowned upon, especially with the serious attachments or obligations that come with parenthood,” Ubaruta says.
With the socio-economic aspect, she points out that the current world of capitalism compels women or parents in general to spend a lot of time working, which makes them too busy to make time for children, and this in the end can affect the morals and affection given to a child, something that might affect the child in future.
She is, therefore, of the view that a woman who is not mentally ready for a child, should have the choice to remain childless.
“Once a woman is not mentally and financially ready to have a child, I find it okay and society should not frown upon her. Population growth on the other hand is affecting the economies of most African countries today because of unplanned pregnancies, especially with young people who are not financially stable to provide for their children. If a woman chooses to be childless, this fact to me is justifiable, rather than having a child who will struggle their entire life,” she adds.
Fashion blogger Marie France Niyonizera says it’s always proper to respect people's choices.
She believes that for a woman to make such a choice is personal and must be backed up with individual reasons. This is why she believes that society should not be so judgemental and have opinions over other people’s lives.
“We all have different beliefs because we come from different backgrounds and we should respect that. I personally don't understand why a woman can take that decision, kids are blessings and it is something we should be proud of as women. But if one doesn't want to have children, I find it okay and I respect that,” she says.
She is of the view that people need to understand that the world is evolving and people are incorporating different cultures and being more open and aware of what they want to do with their lives and that needs to be respected.
Gender activist Annette Mukiga believes that such a choice is personal.
“It goes with bodily autonomy; a woman has a right to choose if and when to have children. So long as something doesn't harm other people, it shouldn’t be an issue what people choose to do with their bodies,” she points out.