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When you finally have that male child

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PHOTO: BabyCenter

I once asked a friend, “What would be the ideal number of children to have in today’s harsh economic climate?” And he answered: “That would depend on your financial status and the gender of child (children) you currently have.”

This got me really thinking. I have been a very lucky woman. My male children and female child came by no special action of mine or my husband to select a particular sex; it was simply by God’s grace. I am therefore not an authority in the area of fertility or family planning as I have not myself experienced waiting for a child or trying for a particular sex.

The views expressed in this article are simply out of empathy for male acquaintances I have observed through periods of anticipating the birth of a male child after having girls.

David was a good friend of mine; he was a cool and calm guy working with our IT department as a Business Analyst. On this particular day he dropped by my office to say a brief hello that ended up being a long debate between him and himself. I must have nodded over a hundred times to assure him that I bought his argument about the importance of female children and how they are not inferior to male ones. David’s pregnant wife was expecting her third baby any day and he made it a point of duty to convince me he was not like most men who craved for male children – a point he had unsuccessfully attempted to reassure his wife about. After this lonesome debate I was almost convinced he was unlike many other Nigerian men.

Two days later, I heard a fast paced thumping on the corridor floor and as it led to my room, my door swung open. Not taking notice of my hand stretched out for a handshake, David grabbed me and gave me an uneasy squeeze I believe he intended as a hug. He then announced: “My wife has delivered a boy!”. “Wow, congratulations”

I muttered, “How’s mother and ba-”, “fine, fine. My boy, he looks exactly like… ” Just then, a female colleague walked past my door, he calls out to her in his excitement: “Gloria, Gloria, you don hear say my wife born boy?”

This announcement which is very typical in Nigeria reminds of the controversial “Mama na boy!” advert by a telecommunications company in 2009 which was heavily criticized for its gender-insensitivity.

Being an advocate for gender mainstreaming and equity, my reaction to the advert at the time was unexpectedly unobjectionable. Note that my choice for the words ‘equity’ rather than ‘equality’ would be a discussion for another day. However, my reaction was borne out of the fact that the advert was a true depiction of the discrimination against the female child that is deeply engraved in the many African societies.

I must admit that Gloria’s response to David’s thoughtless announcement was far from empathic as she stopped and paused giving him a somewhat pathetic look as she shook her head and said in a sarcastic tone “If na girl she come born nko? Anyway, thank God for you”

In an effort to hold back from being judgmental for such an insensitive response; I diverted my thoughts to how ladies like Gloria may have grown up feeling underappreciated because of their gender. I was later to learn that Gloria and her sister were raised by a single mother who struggled to put them through university after their father moved in with the mother of his son.

Make no mistake that I am faulting a man’s preference for male children because I believe that men and boys in our society today are made vulnerable by our traditional versions of manhood. The specific needs and experiences of men and boys have often not been well understood or taken into account in the home, office and across a wide range of areas. As long as this is the case, many men will continue to struggle not to give into these traditional versions of manhood by openly admitting their preference for male children.

I have often wondered if this situation can be helped by tackling the realities and addressing the cultural gender prejudices rather than pretend they do not exist. I acknowledge this is a sensitive spot and must be approached carefully but I would think that rather than be misled to believing my partner’s not keen about a baby’s sex, I would appreciate it more if he admitted the obvious. That way I would be more involved with him in considering methods of gender selection, which brings us a step closer to achieving the goal of having a male child. Most women I know take deliberate steps when they are trying for a child. They become more familiar with their menstrual cycle and timing of intercourse during the monthly cycle when there is a real reason to be – a reason like trying to conceive a male child.

It may be impracticable to suggest that we do not unduly pressure couples by immediately enquiring about gender right after they announce a baby’s arrival but we can encourage them and provide support in ways that make them understand that every child is a priceless gift regardless of its gender.

Beyond the quest to fill our ‘quivers’ with a diversity of sexes, the challenge remains to transform traditional versions of manhood and gender relations. Men and women must work together to redefine and build a more just and gender equitable home first.

It is important that our society understands the difference between gender and sex. Gender refers to the socially and culturally constructed differences between boys and girls; as distinct from sex which refers to their biological differences. In societies like ours, women and men experience and shape gender roles and relations through interactions, expectations and opportunities but it’s really up to every couple to build a family where every child’s value and potentials are not based on sexuality.

• Mrs. Igaezuma Okoroba wrote from Lagos.


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