CAMEROON: Let’s Celebrate Our Daughters!

Pressured to produce male heirs, Precious Meshi Nkeih fights back by cherishing her little girls.

"If bearing only girls is a crime, then let me be the culprit!"

As I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed, I notice a friend’s post thanking God for the birth of her "Prince," her first son after three daughters. Another friend has commented in Cameroon Pidgin English: “You should thank God that you have given birth to your husband’s successor. If you didn’t get a son your husband would have sent you parking from that marriage.”

In Cameroon, a male child is usually referred to as the “chop chair” of his father. This means he is the fit child to succeed his father. But female children are rarely accorded this position. When a woman gives birth to a female child, the child is valued less than if she gives birth to a male. A woman who finally gets a son after two or more daughters often feels like she has walked into light after the dark moments of only having daughters.

When I gave birth to my first girl, my male cousin said, “Women keep giving birth to a lot of girls these days! It is disgusting. We need boys!”

When I gave birth to my second daughter and was enjoying her ravishing beauty, my brother-in-law’s wife phoned me and said: “We hear you are only giving birth to girls.” As a typical African woman, she expressed her disappointment in me for bringing forth a female child again instead of a chop chair for my husband.

This is where violence against women starts—right when the girl is born. She is undervalued and unwanted. Society pressures her mother to bring forth a son and be a "real woman." Some women get pregnant again rapidly hoping this time it’s a boy.

Then with panting hearts, they wait for the news….Nope! It’s a girl again. They are disappointed and desperate. They are likely to ill-treat their God-sent queen. Other women make them feel inadequate. They develop an inferiority complex in front of those proud mamas of strong boys.

They do not lose hope. They produce a chain of female children in their quest for males. From one female child to the next their hope diminishes. In the end they are “stuck” with daughters only.

Their husbands take in second wives who can bear them sons. After suffering verbal abuse for their incapacity to produce sons they have to battle it out with competitive co-wives.

Some visit witch doctors in search of a supernatural power that can cleanse their wombs and enable them to produce sons. Is it not obvious? The stigma attached to women bearing only daughters is madness.

Hospitals are even beginning to realize the dangers of this mentality. During my first pregnancy, I went to Mbingo Baptist Health Center in Douala for an ultrasound. I understood the medical benefits of having my womb viewed under the radiologist’s lenses, but I was also eager to know if I would be having a boy or a girl. However, the medical specialist declined to reveal the baby’s sex to me.

A midwife told me this hospital began refusing to unveil babies' sexes to mothers to prevent the negative reactions of those who badly wanted boys and were frustrated when the medical images revealed they were carrying girls. She said a lot of women became downcast when they were told they were having girls, and carrying that feeling of rejection towards a baby is not good for the wellbeing of the child. The maternal health workers at health centers strongly believe in the well-known Pidgin English saying pikin na pikin, which means “every child is valuable no matter the sex.”

I understand why the hospital takes this approach. Our culture has continuously sold the idea that boys are better than girls and unfortunately, many mothers are buying it. But hospitals withholding a baby’s sex from the mother is not an answer to the problem.

It is time to change this weird line of thinking. Let us celebrate our daughters when they are in our wombs, when they are born, and as they grow up. Let us sensitize pregnant women, their husbands, custodians of tradition, and the entire society on the importance of female children.

Let us flaunt them until those who believe boys are the better kids become envious of our daughters. Daughters-only mothers should verbally challenge the naysayers that attack us. A woman should never ever feel inferior because she has not produced a son. She should be assertive of her girls. I intentionally celebrate my daughters on Facebook. I upload their pictures and write about them. I want those who feel shy about having only daughters to overcome the stigma and identify with me.

I do not seek approval from the propagators of this accepted madness. If bearing only girls is a crime, then let me be the culprit. If they think it makes a mom inferior, it only makes me superior. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, has two daughters. Is Michelle Obama in any way disadvantaged because she bore only girls? The answer is an emphatic, “No!”

My daughter just held me and told me in her cute little voice, “Mummy, I love you.”

I say pikin na pikin and girl pikin na better pikin!—Each child is special and girls are super special!


About Precious Meshi Nkeih

Precious Meshi Nkeih is a World Pulse Voices of Our Future Correspondent from Cameroon. Because of her gender, she has been harassed. She has been silenced. She has been denied employment, denied pay, and hassled in the streets. But Precious sees a new future for the women of her country. Inspired by her mother’s accomplishments, Precious has built a name for herself in broadcast journalism. She aims to be a powerful voice for those who are unable to speak for themselves. She hopes to be a film producer and believes that video storytelling can—and will—change the future of her homeland.

 

Topic Girls
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Dear Precious,

I agree with you wholeheartedly. All children are special and no one should make a girl child or a mother of a girl child to feel any less. We have similar cultural preferences for boys and this has led to a lot of unnecessary hardship and low self-esteem for women and girls.

I also had a similar experience when I was going to have my children and had done a ultrasound. The doctors don't want to tell you the sex of the baby even if you ask because they feel you may be disappointed if it is not what you desire and have a negative pregnancy. I did not understand this then because for me, it was not an issue but I can now relate to the pressures on other women who are eagerly expecting a particular sex or face victimization at home to produce male heirs.

All these just breeds a culture of fear and limits us from enjoying life. The doctor is afraid to tell a woman what sex her expectant baby has; the woman is afraid to know what she would deliver - and is so anxious, she cannot enjoy her pregnancy; the society is so scared that without boys the fabric of its structures and perpetuity will fall apart; We are afraid that we still need to be explaining this over and over again why sex doesn't matter.

It is simple acceptance of our worth and courage that will keep us going and keep us strong in the face of such flagrant abuse and discrimination.

Thanks for sharing and God bless all our children - daughters and sons.

Best wishes, Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

Dear Osai,

This is one of the many problems that came from our culture.I have lived in Nigeria before and the situation there is the same. I heard of an Igbo adage that says a woman can only consider herself truly married when she has a son. Crazy! I guess that's why baby boys were sold for more money than baby girls in a baby factory that was uncovered in Nigeria some months ago.

This believe that boys are better has far reaching consequences. We all need to fight it and cherish our children whether male or female.

Thank you, Sister!

Precious

My pen speaks

As the wife of a Cameroonian man I can attest to this. Though my husband did not say it outright before we found once, once we found that I was having a boy he called everyone he knew to announce that his successor would soon be here.

I, on the other hand, was hoping for a girl and was in tears once I found that I would not have my girl.

However, once my son Wynn was here I knew that I was supposed to be the parent of this child, regardless of his sex/gender.

I hope that other parents get the privledge to feel this way. I know it is not a reality for everyone and I appreciate how eloquently you described the soical stigma. I think that prounouncing your pride for your daughters is such a wonderful step.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and allowing me to voice my experience.

In Peace and Love,

Sharese

Hello Sharese,

Thank you for sharing your experience. To a Cameroonian man, a male child is an important need. I can imagine how you felt.

It's time for us to flip the script and let those men know that daughters are really special!

You made the right decision to cherish your son even though you wanted a girl. Every mother should accept their children in spite of the gender.

Love to your son and your husband, my Cameroonian brother.

Thank you!

Precious

My pen speaks

I would find the blaming of women on this topic so amusing -- if it weren't so awful. It is the MALE who is responsible for the gender of the child!!!!! He can get all the young girls & new wives he can afford -- it is still HIS "fault" if the child is a girl or a boy. HIS X or Y chromosome in the sperm that joins the ovum/egg. It's just so darn handy to blame women, isn't it? And so ignorant. MAYBE we should start a campaign "exposing" the inability of men to create male heirs, & propose their consequent devaluation as husbands?… No, that would be too mean, wouldn't it be?

surfgirl-CA -- When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world. Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

Hi Surfgirl,

A lot of these men are actually ignorant and fail to realize that women only produce what is deposited in them. Unfortunately, some women too are ignorant and blame themselves.

When a man takes a second wife because his first wife "can't bear him a son" then this second wife eventually bears a son, that is a pure coincidence!

No women is responsible for the sex of her baby so if any blame is necessary, it should be directed to the man.

Thanks for this insight Sis!

Precious

My pen speaks

Anytime, Ms. Precious M. If I can help you in some way, let me know. I'm in California. I think a campaign to "explain" this via cartoons or a video could be really interesting -- I'm sure it wld meet w/ a LOT of resistance, since the man's right to divorce & polygamy is, in part, based on this who-produces-the-son myth. But a low-literacy video campaign like this might help some women at least be clear about their lack of fault. Also, the younger men will eventually start to get it. It's not cool to be unmodern! That said, there will always be a portion of any population that refuses to believe in science - we have them here in the States too, on the topics of climate change, evolution of the species, the age of the earth and humans, etc . etc. If you're interested in a video like this, maybe we should chat! I have a little experience, tho not w/ animation -- but there are lots of talented students who might like to help around the globe. best, Surfgirl

surfgirl-CA -- When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world. Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

Hello Surfgirl,

I strongly believe in the power of visual story telling to inspire change so yes, let's do it! I am currently in the United States, in Minnesota. We could connect via skype, if you like. My skype ID is presweetcious. Looking forward to hearing from you and a big thank you for the support!

Love, Precious

My pen speaks

Hi PM - I sent you a Skype message. (-:

surfgirl-CA -- When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world. Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

Wow Precious, you are such a great mother to your beautiful girls and I am so inspired by your determination to stand up for them. You are undoubtedly a shining example of what it would take to change an age long ill perception of all that the female child represents. There is certainly a need to to drum up the fact that the sex of a child is dependent men, and how so invaluable a child is irrespective of sex.

Your courage is infectious and I hope that every woman would get infected and stand up for all what a daughter represents. I love your post so much that I want to read it over and over again

\Much love to you and your girls, Greengirl

Greengirl, I love your comment so much I want to read it over and over again. It takes people speaking out to create change, and it also takes as you say "getting infected" by each other's courage and standing behind each other's efforts. Lovely!

Oh Greengirl, you make me even want to stand for them more. Many people have long lived in ignorance, blaming women for the sexes of their children. But not us! "We dey shine our eyes well well!" Ignorance is a disease!

Yes let women stand for their girls and let (bad belle) people know that daughters are so special!

My dear Greengirl, we receive your love. Remain green!

Precious

My pen speaks

thanks meshi,that was a well thought out piece of reflection from a great mind.Fortunately for me as second child and second daughter i was still received with so much joy and love.My father encouraged me to start the crusade fro women's rights in Cameroon when i was just 5 years old.i started making spell binding presentations on radio and television which were often received with ovation.Even today,my Dad and I sit in the same studio and broadcast together,more often i get appreciation from callers on the program than he does and ,ost people who call in make mention that they wished they had a child to follow their foot steps.its nice to hear them say a child instead of a son or a daughter.Unlike other men from Cameroon,i would have been the least favorite of all the children but thanks to a supportive lovely and gender sensitive father i stand out in my family and i am even a role model for most boys in My country.my Father should be a role model for other Cameroonian men to emulate.

Ngobesing Linda

The Voice with sound quality,queen of eloquence

Are you by any means the daughter of Ngobesing Suh Romanus, the veteran journalist??? Give your father hi 5, no hi 10 for me! He set a wonderful example which other men should follow.

Here at World Pulse we appreciate male allies in women's empowerment and your daddy is one of such. He had obviously done a great job, raising you.

Keep shining as the star that you are. You go girl!

Love, Precious

My pen speaks

YES i am and he received the hi 10 with joy.lol.We all should light the candles of our fellow Sisters and our daughter.A candle looses nothing by lighting another candle.Thanks for encouraging me keep shining too.

Ngobesing Linda

The Voice with sound quality,queen of eloquence

Thanks Precious for this great piece,

I'm the big sister of a family with two daughters and my parents always made us feel they couldn't be happier than with their two girls, so for me the picture of you and your little girls is reminding me so much of my mum, my sister and me!!

Do you think that the attitude towards sons and daughters can change with the development of stronger social systems helping for example older people in Cameroon?

In Europe, we had a similar attitude towards sons really not so long ago, they were seen as more valuable because they would legally inherit from their parents and would support them in their older age while girls would marry and go to another family. This changed (although some men still prefer having boys...) mostly because with stronger pension systems, it became less necessary for older people to rely on their sons for survival. I would love to hear your opinion on that!

Thanks for this piece. As I said, it really warmed my heart and reminded me of my own family.

In solidarity, Aurore

Hello, Precious. Here's another opportunity to teach dcelebration of our daughters:

I am serving as an ambassador to the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. 

The purpose of this event is to create harmony, not necessarily agreement, among the spiritual voices on our shared earth.

I would very much like to bring the harmony of World Pulse voices with me. I am planning a One Billion Rising event http://www.onebillionrising.org/ in conjunction with the Women's Initiative on the first day of the parliament. Please look at the attached links and let me know if you'd like to add your voice.

http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/

Continue being a blessing in our shared universe.

 

Yvette