Recently, there was a dialogue hosted by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) that focused on the quality of life and well-being of women and young people. The statements emerging from that meeting are spot on! But is anyone listening?
Young women are having babies without information, resources, and support. These immature females and the irresponsible randy males who father babies, reinforce the cycle of poverty.
Many young girls have to leave school to take care of their babies. These young mothers end up with no qualifications or skills training to compete in the job market. Unemployed fathers buy beer at a shebeen faster than they give money to feed the kids they make. Families struggling to feed five now must stretch the meal to feed more as the new babies keep coming. All of us are to blame for this difficult situation. We must get off our butts, change our ways and do something about it.
It is our daughters, nieces, cousins, and family friends having those babies. It is our sons, nephews, brothers, husbands, and fathers making those babies. I intend to be blunt in this article. If cultural, religious or gender-biased sensitivities are offended, so be it.
First: babies are angels from heaven. They did not ask to be born and they did not choose their parents. Let none of this debate about unwanted pregnancies cast aspersions on the innocent children.
The issue of unwanted pregnancy is not uniquely Namibian; it happens everywhere. But, it seems that Namibia’s high percentages have made it the land of the impoverished teenage mother, rather than the land of the brave.
Our language usage is telling. Women do not ‘fall’ pregnant as if they accidentally tripped over a curb on the street. They become pregnant as a natural outcome of two healthy people having unprotected sex at the right biological time.
There are no immaculate conceptions; it takes two to tango. And yet, this society sees the baby as the sole responsibility of the young mother and her family. This perpetuates the problem.
Men and boys that make babies must pay maintenance. They must be forced to consistently dedicate themselves to being a parent until the child reaches its majority.
I cheer our First Lady, Monica Geingos. She has urged everyone to wake up to the reality that what is relevant to young people today is not what was relevant years ago. She gave an example of a young person unsuccessfully seeking contraceptives from a nurse. This supposed healthcare provider had the judgemental belief that young people should not be having sex. Rather than sagely teaching about contraception, the nurse denied that girl’s request. This likely caused another unexpected pregnancy. Irrelevant, moralistic thinking is another part of the problem.
Society needs to examine why our young girls are spreading their legs so easily. We need to understand why men and boys define ‘manhood’ by having sloppy sex in a dirty school bathroom or behind a tree.
Adult family members and close friends of young people should be talking and LISTENING to them. Support and information must be offered, not shoved down their youthful throats. Some parents resort to punishing and humiliating young people instead of helping them. We are not communicating well on this issue.
We need age-appropriate health education in schools. The judgmental prudes, religious zealots and self-appointed morality police who keep saying that sex education encourages fornication, are ignorant. That ship has sailed. The rising teen pregnancy rate says that our kids are ALREADY having sex, without such school classes.
Children ‘learn what they live.’ They watch as authority figures commit adultery, lie, cheat, steal, abandon their responsibilities, and use violence at home. Imagine a father with four or five children from various women telling his son that making his 14-year-old classmate pregnant, is wrong. Young girls see their unmarried mothers, aunties and older sisters having babies with different men. Are they likely to respect any words of reprimand about promiscuity? Hypocrisy stinks. Check yourself if you want to check your kids.
In Namibia, young girls aren’t valued beyond their ability to make mahangu or pap. We aren’t listening to their points of view in political or business discussions. They aren’t taught to prioritize starting businesses and owning land. We trade them for cattle when they get married. Then, we wonder why emotionally unstable men slaughter our girls like cattle when things go sour in relationships.
One young woman with five kids from four different men told me that she has sex because she wants to feel loved. Are older women in Namibia too repressed by tradition and culture to explain the major difference between sex and love?
Are our girls taught self-esteem? Imagine a frustrated mother or auntie who feels defeated, trapped and unloved, teaching a young girl about self-respect. Can a fish teach an eagle how to fly?
We need to break the mold. Decent, strong and hardworking men must show girls how a responsible man behaves – our girls must be taught to spot the fakes.
Women must tell the stories of their own past experiences in relationships. If they were single mothers, they need to speak openly about their past.
Society must teach that having a baby is neither a badge of honour nor a scarlet letter. It is a sacred trust over someone else’s life. That is the new message that must be proffered. Unless that happens, let’s get the maternity wards ready, here comes a tidal wave of even younger impoverished mothers.