Takudzwa Chihambakwe,Features Correspondent
Speaking animatedly while oozing tangible passion and vigour, one can tell that her words are coming from the depths of her soul.
Never did it cross her mind that someday she would be able to have children of her own as she had to deal with the harsh realities that besiege those deemed infertile, a choice that many at times have no control over.
Sencia Maponga’s situation is similar to that of many Zimbabweans and millions of African women on the continent.
Infertility is a major problem in families, and in most cases, it tends to affect women the most.
Due to cultural norms and the rock-solid patriarchal system that most African countries are set around, even if the husband in the relationship also has fertility problems, it is the wife who carries the burden.
Now 52-years-old, Maponga revealed to The Herald how her first marriage crumbled due to her failure to bear children.
“What many women go through due to infertility is unbearable.
I was now like an animal in my thinking because I just felt nobody loved me because I was unable to bear children.
“Living without a child is something very difficult,” she narrated.
“I was first married at the age of 22 and that marriage only lasted till I was 26.
I could not handle the pressure anymore, so I had to leave.
“My own father-in-law walked in on me as I was stark naked, asking me to be intimate with him as he was wondering why his son and I were not bearing children.
“I immediately left the home and started staying somewhere else with my husband, but never told him what had happened to avoid family conflicts,” she recalled.
But, the family pursuits were not over.
“My husband’s brother came to stay with us for some days and he started giving me a worrying look.
“I then asked him why he was behaving like that, and he then revealed that he wanted to sleep with me so that I could have children.
I was shocked to hear this and I told him to leave.
“That is when I discovered they knew that my husband was infertile, but I had to go through all this.
After four years, the marriage ended and I decided never to get married again.”
Maponga’s situation speaks to the true reality on the ground that states that in such scenarios where a couple cannot bear children, it is a 50/50 scenario where either partner can be infertile, and not the flawed perception perpetuated in society that women are the problem.
Twelve years later, Maponga remarried, but that did not work as well.
In her quest to find solace, she then discovered that there were many like her in Southern Africa, which led her to form an organisation dubbed Hannah’s Tears in 2015.
“On a daily basis, I get over 500 messages on my phone, and other social media platforms, of women suffering in marriages due to this issue of infertility.
Some are emotionally and physically abused, and it is now our task to counsel them,” says Maponga, who decided to adopt and be a foster parent, and has four lovely children.
She highlighted that there were numerous challenges in trying to address this issue in Zimbabwe as many have never been educated on it, and let cultural norms run their course.
Another issue is that while the health complications that lead to infertility can be addressed, the processes are too expensive for many.
“Most healthcare facilities with such specialised equipment are found in cities, mostly Harare.
It is costly for many in the rural areas who suffer greatly to get assistance,” she revealed.
With such an issue in the nation what is Government doing?
“This issue of fighting infertility stigma is something that had been overlooked.
It was a project that did not have funding, so the services were mainly available in the private sector,” said Director of Family Health in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Bernard Madzima.
“The most critical thing is to raise awareness of the causes of infertility, making it known that the problem might actually lie in the man as opposed to the norm that it is always the woman who has a challenge.
“To achieve this, The Angel of Hope Foundation (The First Lady’s Foundation), last year linked with an international organisation called Merck Foundation and under that linkage there is programme called Merck More than a Mother.
“The programme tries to disseminate these messages using existing community structures such as chiefs’ wives, local leadership, doctors and healthcare workers as well as the community at large,” he revealed.
Dr Madzima added that they were also targeting players in the creative cultural sector to help spread the message.
“The arts sector will also play a pivotal role in raising awareness, and we are going to be working with them extensively next year.
We are also going to set up clinics in remote areas so that the specialised treatment that is required is accessible to all come 2020.”
So dire is the situation that African First Ladies have come together in one voice to fight this stigma and raise awareness on the continent to the fact that it is not always about the woman; the man in the picture also contributes immensely.
In partnership with Merck Foundation, the First Ladies converged in Ghana in October this year and deliberated on ways to end this scourge.
At the Accra conference, World Health Organisation statistics show that 186 million people around the world experience either primary or secondary infertility.
However, due to various factors such as poor health practices and lack of equipped healthcare providers and centres, the situation is grimmer in Africa.
Some countries in Eastern and Central Africa are also described as the infertility belt in the world.
“WHO tells us again that even though infertility in men is the cause of 50 percent of the cases of a couple’s inability to conceive, the economic, psychological and social cultural burdens fall disproportionately on women.
They suffer the most,” said President of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo as he addressed delegates at the conference.
In Ethiopia, it is said that 85 percent of childless marriages end up in divorce.
In Tanzania, they say a childless woman may not inherit the husband’s wealth.
A study in South Africa shows that there is a higher level of anxiety, anger and depression among infertile women.
“Here in Ghana, an infertile woman is treated as an outcast. I
believe that the examples stated above are not peculiar to the countries stated, but represent what is prevailing on the African continent,” he added.
According to First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa who attended the deliberations, one of the ways to address the matter is through sensitising societies.
“I have worked in collaboration with various ministries, community leaders and other stakeholders to sensitise our communities to better understand the subject of infertility,” she said.
“We have also partnered with Merck Foundation and Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care to build healthcare capacity and train future experts in Zimbabwe,” the First Lady said.