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.