Childless Africa: A Campaign to Banish “Barrenness”


Science has taught us that infertility can occur in both genders; to assume where the trouble is without clinical testing is frankly a waste of time. And yet, in various parts of the world, Africa in particular, that’s exactly what happens every day.

The Guardian Nigeria reports that people of that area have “never” considered infertility – what they refer to as “barrenness” to be a man’s fault. Never. Ever.

Don’t get it twisted: in this region, the word “childless”, much like “infertile”, is rarely used. The preferred term is “barren”, an adjective that was judged to be politically incorrect in the U.S. years ago. 

Detailing legal problems on childlessness in the region, the article explains that according to the custom of Benin (a western neighbor of Nigeria), childless women “passively accept the verdict and spend the rest of [their lives] seeking out one prospective healer after another, native and orthodox.”

Other tribal and geographic traditions can take this a step farther. Under the Ishan custom:

“A childless woman who desires to raise a family is allowed to ‘marry’ another woman on the payment of dowry and thereafter, lay claim to any offspring begotten by such a woman.”


What happy news it must be for these women to know that a change is gonna come. This weekend in Ghana, hundreds are expected to attend a first-ever national conference on childlessness, part of a broad campaign to define women without children as “childless.” A non-government organization, The Association of Childless Couples of Ghana is leading the way with the Department of Social Welfare and the Gender Violence Survivors Support Network.

Held in the capital city of Accra, conference activities will include information to foster access to adoption and other options for parenthood, as well as counseling for women divorced because they failed to produce a child. Proceeds will be used to continue to build awareness of contemporary (and compassionate) terminology and provide supportive services.

Here’s hoping for a huge success, though clearly, such broad cultural change will not come easy. But, it will come.

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