Gender-based violence: How childless married women are stigmatized, mocked

(photo credit: Getty Images/iStock)

By Godshield Kanjal

December 18, 2009, is a day Mary Atol would probably never forget. That day was the day she tied the knot with her former fiancée-turned-husband, Anthony Ewa.

“It’s a day I will never forget in a hurry – as the first daughter of the house getting married a month after my National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC)”, Mary recalled.

As it is the custom of Utanga in Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State, where Mary is from, her family had converged at her father’s compound for the traditional rites. The brideprice was paid. Guests ate and drank to their satisfaction. “It was a big merriment in the community,” Mary said.

Both parents of the couple prayed for their children while wishing them a fruitful union.

As they wrapped up the event, at about 8 pm, their families and friends bid them farewell as the couples jumped into their red Toyota Siena vehicle back to Asaba, where they are based.

Mary said their love bloomed, adding that she and Anthony “were always wearing ‘to match’ outfits and couldn’t walk on the road without holding each other.”

The lovebirds “bathed and cooked together. We did every house chore together. We were so bounded”, Mary narrated

But four years into their marriage, Mary could not conceive.

Troubled, she visited several hospitals to find out what was wrong with her, and so far, all results point to known causes for her childlessness. “At least, I’m still in my early thirties, so I know I am within the age of conceiving”

Feeling desperate, Mary turned her search for answers to religion, where she began to visit religious houses for special prayers and deliverance. This search cost her money, but there was no positive result.

At this point, their joyous marriage became sour.

Also, society didn’t help either; she could hear neighbors whisper under their breath about her childlessness, with others saying she had no womb.

Her husband also turned on her; ” My husband became so harsh and bullied me.”

He would avoid eating her food when going out and return late at night. Her once happy home became a living hell.


All efforts by Mary to get her husband to the hospital fell on deaf ears. She became pale, a shadow of her former self. “I became depressed and was mentally sick, but I had faith that one day I would conceive. And I was patience

Luckily for Mary, she became pregnant last year and has given birth to a boy.

Mary said her husband now treats her better, and her in-laws “became more friendly,” but she added that

“I don’t pray for my enemies to experience what I went through”

What’s infertility?

Mary’s story is only one of the many women across the globe who have had to suffer due to infertility, a failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to a report by the National Library of Science (National Centre for Biotechnology Information), Violence against women, especially partner and sexual violence, is one of the most pressing public health concerns affecting women today.

“In some communities, women are considered to be the cause of infertility, and factors such as level of education, employment status, independence, and social status appear to determine the risk of violence against such women.


“Globally accrued data reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown that spousal physical or sexual violence varies from 15% in Japan to 70% in Ethiopia and Peru.

“Additionally, 38% of murders of women have been reported to be committed by their intimate partners.

“Spousal violence often has negative effects on an individual’s chronic conditions, physical diseases, and health-risk behaviors.

“Domestic violence has also been shown to have a significant effect on women’s reproductive health.

“Often, such women are of poor health and receive less medical care than others.

“Many other problems caused by violence against women include the subsequent harm to the health and well-being of their children, the effect of domestic violence on economic development and ultimately, the failure to achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs).”

Expensive solution

WHO report suggests that around 17.5% of the adult population – roughly 1 in 6 worldwide – experience infertility, showing the urgent need to increase access to affordable, high-quality fertility care for those in need.

The new estimates show limited variation in the prevalence of infertility between regions. The rates are comparable for high-, middle- and low-income countries, indicating that this is a major health challenge globally. Lifetime prevalence was 17.8% in high-income countries and 16.5% in low- and middle-income countries.

“The report reveals an important truth: infertility does not discriminate,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at WHO. “The sheer proportion of people affected shows the need to widen access to fertility care and ensure this issue is no longer sidelined in health research and policy so that safe, effective, and affordable ways to attain parenthood are available for those who seek it.”

Despite the magnitude of the issue, solutions for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of infertility – including assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) – remain underfunded and inaccessible to many due to high costs, social stigma, and limited availability, WHO, noted.

Creating awareness of infertility to end GBV

Last month, the Cross River Ministry of Health partnered with the Association for Fertility and Reproductive Health to create awareness on the unsavory infertility subject.

The Ministry, amongst other partners, took to the streets of Calabar on the awareness walk, themed: “Stop the stigma,” to sensitize residents on possible medical solutions to infertility and other important information pertaining to the subject.

Declaring the event open, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mrs. Pauline Obute, said infertility is a major problem that has continued to tear homes apart.

She noted that with proper awareness, infertility remains a temporary condition with a solution.

The Permanent Secretary, who was represented by the State Family Planning Coordinator, Mrs. Lucy Enakirerhi, pointed out that infertility is a situation that affects both the man and woman and not a defect to only women as it has often been misconceived in most families, backgrounds, communities, and cultures.

“Whenever in a family a child is not forthcoming, the whole blame is attributed to the woman. It is not always the case in the real sense. So, we are here to create public awareness that infertility is not only a problem akin to the female gender. Research has proven that it is an issue that affects both sexes,” the technocrat remarked.

Mrs. Obute informed that in recent times men are suffering increasing cases of impotence due to technological, biological, and other environmental factors, noting that it has become imperative for couples and those seeking children to visit professionals for counseling and further necessary action towards providing solutions, rather than mulling over the issue with superstition and other unfounded judgments

Charles Njoku, a consultant gynecologist with the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital and professor of gynecology, lamented the stigma associated with infertility, noting that ” it’s not a dead sentence as believed in our society.

He said it is important to sensitize those battling with infertility as well as to encourage those seeking treatment for infertility to come out boldly without fear of stigma,

“Stigmatization has been a measuring factor against people accessing treatment and other scientific solutions to the problems of infertility.

“We want people to know that infertility is not a problem. Today, people even choose to do advanced fertility treatment like IVF on their own. And people should also understand that there are reasons why one should approach those things.

For instance, in people who are undergoing cancer treatment, by the time they finish, their reproductive system may have been affected. Such people could freeze their garments, sperm, and eggs and remain fertile after cancer treatment.

“Even those who think they have entered menopause, in advanced fertility treatment, they can still get pregnant and have their own children,” Prof. Njoku stated.

The consultant gynecologist lamented the poor level of awareness of infertility in the state.

“Infertility is not a disease and must not be seen as a taboo while encouraging those facing infertility issues to seek proper treatment,” he said.

Also articulating her views, another consultant obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Chinyere Akpanika, revealed that there is a lot of stigmatization and ignorance associated with the issues of infertility, saying that more often than not, some of such infertility problems can be solved with medications.

She traced some causes of infertility to infections, medical challenges like diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension, thyroid problems, low sperm count, and tuber factors. She expounded further that the majority of infertility issues in recent times have been male factor related, thereby calling on men to avoid blaming games and rather join their spouses to seek professional infertility treatment.

“Do not stay at home or resort to visiting fake spiritual and traditional attendants. Come to the hospital. We will evaluate the problem and institute therapy to solve it. We are also informing those with tuber issues that assisted reproductive techniques are available. Children born through IVF are yours because the sperm from the man and the egg from the woman would be joined together. The only difference is that it is not done inside your body. Override that obstacle in your body, get it done, put the pregnancy back to the woman, which she carries to the correct term like every other person and eventually gives birth,” Dr. Akpanika advised.


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1 thought on “Gender-based violence: How childless married women are stigmatized, mocked”

  1. A very interesting story, it’s a painful one and I believe similar stories are familiar to some of us in this part of the country, I strong advise people in this situation to seek counsel from their doctor and to also go with Dr. Akpanika’s advise.

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