"I just want to thank you personally for carrying on this amazing conversation (about my article) on your blog. I still cannot believe how my simple words from the heart became as the pebble thrown into a river to cause so many ripples in the blogosphere.
"In the last week I have seen some really bitter responses (understandably so considering how integral contraceptives have become in the western world). But I have also seen so many many positive and encouraging responses ... I really wish I could answer the questions that I see people asking, I really wish I could get many of my cousins and sisters and friends and aunties from home (Nigeria) to speak for themselves. I mean my article only lifts a tiny edge of the curtain to our culture of life and our perception of love and life. There is so much more that I wish I could communicate. I was thinking of making a photo album next time I go home of just women and their babies. Amidst the dust and dirt -- but happy.
"For now I just sort of feel powerless because of the inadequacy of my little article. We don't have any good pro-life advocacy in place in most African countries and so we really are not prepared at all for this move by Melinda to plant the seeds of the culture of death … Once again thank you so much for rising in defence of the dignity of the African woman."
We have been conversing ever since, and she was pleased to respond to the question, "Do you intend to speak for every African woman?" the possibility of which troubled my pro-contraception, pro-"choice" readers (though the same readers had no problem with Melinda Gates' $4.6 billion speaking for those same African women). While the following answer will likely not satisfy her critics, I hope the voice of this strong, dignified woman will be heard and respected, especially as she speaks of her own beloved culture and the threats to it that come, uninvited, from a world away.
My answer: Yes and No.
Yes. I speak for every woman living in the (sub-Saharan) African context, not as if I can read their minds, but as if I can read their living situations.
This is a bold statement to make but I would dare to make it because I understand the African society, the African cultural ethics and universal values, given that I was born and raised within that culture. Africa of course is comprised of many, many tribes and tongues and creeds (Catholic, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Islam and African Traditional religion). However across state lines, borders and languages, we share the universal values of the Culture of Life. This is why abortion advocates have found it very difficult (if not impossible) to sell legal abortion to any of these countries. There is a unanimous rejection of the Culture of Death, which is very much framed by the right to kill the defenceless unborn child in the womb.
As for the acceptance and use of artificial contraception, we have artificial contraceptives in Africa. In the last 2 decades, the UN has been on a mission to reduce the birth rate in Africa so they have flooded our hospitals with it, campaigning in urban and rural communities alike. But yet - surprise, surprise - most people still refuse to accept it because they perceive it as 'anti-life'. And besides, most African women know how to avoid or delay pregnancy without resorting to chemicals. They might be poor, but they are not slow nor stupid.
Anyway, there are a combination of reasons why the African women have a high birth rate.
The first is because there is a high desired fertility rate (i.e., how many babies a woman desires to have). This is because, the older women in our communities are revered or respected or even rated in accordance to how many adult children she has raised. So my mum who raised 6 adult children commands even much more respect than her friends who have much more wealth than she does but fewer children. And one of her friends who has 9 adult children is even more respected than my mum; even my mum reveres this lady for being able to raise 9 children (one of whom is a dear friend of mine by the way). For Melinda Gates' birth-reduction programme to take root in our society, she has to completely uproot this sort of value-system where wealth is never placed above children. Put differently, our system is such that our children are our treasure, and dollars, euros, rands are only our legal tender.
A second reason is that due to our poor medical facilities, poor societal infrastructure, poor nutrition, etc., our death rate is quite high (for both men and women). The life expectancy of every person living in sub-Saharan Africa is almost half of that in Europe, and if the culture does not encourage or celebrate births, well we'd be extinct before too long!
Another reason is that because we do not have free education as in Europe/US, it is rather difficult for the poor (which is more than 65% of the population) to send their daughters to secondary school (primary school in some cases), so they get married at a very early age. Anyone can see that if you start to have children at age 14, of course by the time you get to 35 you would have more than if you had been sent to school and thus married at say 20 years old.
Now I know people would suggest that these under-aged brides be protected and saved by giving them contraceptives to delay conception, but to live in the African society and be seen as infertile is never good for the woman especially where Christianity is not widely accepted and many men take second wives. So among the poor, a wife, in order to ensure her 'place' as the sole wife of her husband will want to have more than 3 or 4 children.
Among the educated this is different because most educated men will not willingly choose polygamy. And that is why I appeal for donations in African to be channelled to education of girls (and boys) rather than contraceptives. People would never wish their daughters married off at 12 or 13 years old if they were offered the opportunity of education. No girl would want to marry so young if she could get an education, and I do not know very many African girls who will then refuse a higher education (university, nursing school, teacher training college).
Once a woman living in the African context gets her higher education she is exponentially empowered. She could get a sustainable job with her skills, and when she marries she is so much more enabled not just with her husband but very importantly among his family (as our family structure is usually in the context of an extended family of the husband). It might be useful to point out at this juncture that the more educated African women almost always choose to have fewer children (but mostly by natural methods rather than artificial contraceptives). So rather than fill our young defenceless under-aged brides with Depo-Provera which is more like a general anaesthesia that will make them not feel the brutality of their reality, we can better empower them by giving them the lifeline of education by which they can climb out of poverty one girl at a time. Surely education is more expensive than the artificial contraceptive, but it can change the fate and face of Africa as far as poverty is concerned.
Obviously this only addresses one part of the issue - the cultural acceptance (or rejection) of artificial contraceptives. There is also the matter of the governance and politics of Africa. Major, major issue. Anyone who follows closely the news from the African continent would immediately be struck by the ease with which dictators, military coups commanders, and criminal war lords pop-up across our continent. This is so hard to relate to for most Americans or Europeans, but we must bear in mind that most Africans have and are still living under dictatorial governments that span decades. In our African reality whoever is in power wields a god-like power which cannot be easily challenged. And in my experience, most of these men, who manage to climb into positions of power, want wealth for themselves; they want to spend only a portion of the national wealth on the people and then 'keep the change' for themselves. One factor that gets in their way is the increased populations in the different countries. They have more people to feed and fund thanks to our relatively high birth-rates, so from this point the natural female fertility becomes a stumbling block to them.
I would take the liberty to bring China into this conversation (only as an example) so please pardon me. The Chinese leaders have always had both unspeakable power and unfathomable wealth, so the moment they perceived the women's fertility as problematic, they used what they had to achieve what they wanted. They launched a rather expensive but effective war against fertility: state-sponsored abortions, forced sterilisations, mandatory contraception - all done without much consideration for human rights. Now in Africa among our governments, the desire to cap national population is there, the power (to trample human rights) is there, but the money is not, so women remain safe from this sort of violence.
But this could very easily change by the time Melinda pours into our territories the incredible amounts of artificial contraceptives that she is campaigning for (her target is to get enough for 120 million women! Most of whom are in Africa). I can just see this in the hands of the African dictators who will be quick to 'weaponise' every single one of these contraceptives (pill, pin, patch or injectables). I know many people who think that it is a 'nice' thing to do to get this 'choice' of birth control to the women, and I understand that they mean well, but are we willing to allow this extra edge of power to fall into the wrong hands? So on this point I speak for ALL African women who are as safe as the Authorities are disabled by limited supplies of artificial contraceptives.
For the societal acceptable sexual norms, I'm afraid I don't speak for all African women. However, by universal cultural standards, I do not know of one single African community that will accept or applaud 'free' sexual expressions, sex-outside-of-marriage, cohabitation, casual sex, domestic partnerships, friends with benefits etc. (all of which I have seen is widely accepted in the European culture that I live in today). Not to say that people are not engaging in such life styles in Africa, but they are never validated or endorsed by the society. A mother can never proudly tell anyone that her daughter is living with her boyfriend.
But in more recent years, thoughts and tendencies of the younger African women on different things are informed and formed by a broad array of factors: social class, wealth, education, degree of devotion to faith - these will all determine her level of exposure to western cultural values (this one is very important - so an African woman who has access to internet and cable TV spends more time watching American TV series [such as Mad Men!] which is more often than not highly sexualised; over time her perception and definition of love, sex and family life is inevitably shaped and formed). So there is an emerging group of African girls (though not a majority at all) gradually being "westernised" because they perceive the entirety - the whole package - of the western life as the 'glamourous life', the 'modern life', the 'better life'.
In order to embrace and accept this life, they inadvertently let go of some or most of our African universal cultural standards. With this persistent pursuit of the 'better life', many young Africans are now standing on the precipice beyond which lies the mirage of happiness/fulfillment promised by the new western norms of sexual expression. They have the choice either to jump off that precipice leaving our own norms behind, or to stand back in the realisation and appreciation of the beauty and solidity of our own African Culture of Life, which is so compatible with faith and morals.
I personally have chosen not to jump, I know many many, many other African women who have also chosen not to jump. And I pray that as my beloved African sisters come up one after the other to that precarious precipice they too would turn back and hold tight unto the beautiful Culture of Life which holds the firm promise of light, life and true love.
For the past six years Ms. Ekeocha has been living and working as a biomedical scientist in Canterbury, England. Most of her family and many friends still live in Nigeria. From Catholic Online: Ekeocha "was inspired to write an open letter to Melinda Gates after learning of Gates' move to inject $4.6 billion worth of contraceptive drugs and devices into her homeland." She is hoping Gates will hear her "as the voice of the African woman."
Ms. Ekeocha and others are hoping to find assistance from American pro-life advocacy groups/attorneys who can advise re: organizing and strengthening the continent's pro-life efforts to best fight against the coming contraceptive/Culture of Death onslaught.