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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Is a woman only worth her children?
somali women
To what extent would you go to have a child?

The BBC's Africa Live programme asks: Is a woman worth more than the children she bears?

In Somalia, a hospital in the capital Mogadishu was forced to shut for five weeks following threats to a doctor who removed a woman's womb.

Dr Bashir Sheikh said the operation had saved Mrs Fatuma Abdulle's life because she was carrying a dead foetus.

Fatuma's family sent gunmen to the SOS hospital, saying she was as good as dead, without a womb.

We had consent from her husband to do whatever was necessary to save her life
Dr Bashir Sheikh

The family demanded 50 camels from the doctor - the traditional Somali compensation offered for the death of a woman.

Prompted by this story, Africa Live! looks at how childbearing or childlessness affects a woman's identity and status.

Is a woman only worth the children she bears?

To what extent would you go - as a man or a woman - to get a baby?

This debate is now closed. Here are some of your comments:

Many years ago I was married to an Ethiopian and really felt awful because I did not conceive. Eventually, the marriage was terminated. My ex and I remained friends. I know his culture was responsible for the breakup.
Kitty, USA

I wonder how many of the western values and customs the people of Somalia would condemn just because they don't understand them? I think that we shouldn't be so quick to condemn it.
Jo , Ireland

I am so disappointed in most of the comments I read on this issue. People seem to have forgotten or lack basic knowledge of culture and its differences across even villages. For instance, I don't see anything modern or sane in same sex marriages or leaving wealth to be inherited by animals.
Abdallah Musa, Nigeria

I am getting married to a woman who has a problem of conceiving. I love my fiancee and want us to be together forever not because I expect us to have kids. I see her as lover, a friend, a motivator and the spark that makes my life tick. An educated, decent, childless African woman is worth more than the exploited, illiterate and impoverished African mother of twelve whose kids all end up on streets, through no faults of theirs.
Aye Dabo Binniyat, Nigeria

I don't think that physically having a child makes you any more of a woman than one who can not bear a child of her own. I know an awful lot of people who have had children and they have no business having them. They are terrible parents. I know some people who want to have children and cannot, but they would be excellent parents. I feel for them. Still there are many other ways of being a mother than bearing one of your own. You can be a wonderful godmother, aunt, sister, or cousin. You can adopt or choose to live your life without children. People should note that not every woman wants to become a mother. A woman is so much more than a mother. Even though I am a mother and I feel it is a privilege and blessing to be a mother, I know that I am still more than a mother and I would still be of value even if I did not have my children.
Shirley, USA

The sooner the world in general wakes up to the fact that women, whoever and wherever they are, have a useful contribution to make to society, the better. I find it hard to comprehend that some societies and religions still treat women as second class citizens. Many of my women friends will never have children out of choice and any man criticising that decision would certainly experience their wrath..and quite rightly so!
Robert, Dubai, UAE

In the African context the woman is the alpha and omega. She is the backbone of the family. I am an African man with complete respect for African woman. We love you Mama Africa!
Gordon, Kenya

The children are a retirement savings plan, because there is no government who pays you social security or other support
Abdirashid Mohamud, USA

In Somalia for instance, children are main source of income for the parents when they get old. The children have the obligation to support their parents. The children are retirement savings plan, because there is no government who pays you social security or other support. The people in Somalia have an attitude toward those who don't have child on their own. by
Abdirashid Sh. Mohamud, USA

I am so disgusted by the archaic and unrealistic male chauvinism that exists in African countries. Women are treated as dispensable partners who can be replaced, sent packing or turned to members of a harem. I don't know who to blame; the women who allow this sort of indignation or the men who continue to perpertuate it. Women and men were created equally and there should be no basis for degrading this simplistic theory of life. Women are worth more than the children they bear. Remember that woman could be your mom and is your mom.
David, USA

A human being is worth what they see themselves being worth. This is only true in a free society, so in closed or backward societies like Somalia, a woman is only worth her children. When will we help these sort of places become modern? Or is there a balance between being a traditional mother and a modern woman? I hope we find a balance, or modern societies will soon die out. Wow, 50 camels, what is a man worth?
Rob, USA

I feel that having a child is a priceless gift and by the same token a woman should get respect, love and honor for the person she is and not whether she bears a child or not.
Rahel Adams, Canada

It did not come out clearly in your readers comments but for a number of Africans, the bride price is really the "child price". You pay the bride price because you expect children. For many Africans children are important for a number of reasons, one of which is a sense of personal immortality. I live on in my children, especially sons, and my family name lives on in my sons. Polygamy and divorce are still options for some African christians so that their family lines 'will not stop with me'. Adoption, as a means of getting children, is becoming much more common in certain circles in Kenya, less so in Nigeria, my only places of experience in Africa.
Rev. Dr. Andrew Wildsmith, Kenya

This is a terrible situation and sadly, very widespread, but it will take generations of education to change this degrading regard to women. Before we criticise though, perhaps we should take a close look at our own aristocracy, where young girls are married for the sole purpose of producing male heirs. Even our own Royal family engages in this low and demeaning activity. Once the wife has produced suitable heirs she is considered disposable. Isn't it curious that while the rest of us are learning to treat each other as equals, those who attend all the "best" schools and are members of the "best" families, are still behaving like primitives?
Sheila, UK

Infertility of both genders is regarded as a severe disability in Somalia.
M.H. Abdirahman, London, UK

As a somali woman myself I think that most Somali men believe a woman with no kids is nothing. I disagree with them.
Amina Hassan, United Kingdom

In Somalia, women are respected in many ways more than men. However, the fact is that infertility of both genders is regarded a severe disability in Somalia. In Faduma Abdulle's case, she has already got other children. A combination of her family's understanding the seriousness of her situation, the anarchy in Mogadishu and their poverty made the case extreme.
M.H. Abdirahman, London, UK

A culture that regards a woman as a childbearing machine, or a property to be sold or inherited and the like, should be reformed to conform to modern times. Such practices violate the rights of the women so affected.
Clayton Omwanga, Kenyan in Cyprus

It is unfortunate that many in Africa still follow the culture and tradition laid down so many centuries ago which has relegated women to child bearing machines. Many women daily live in perpetual fear of husbands and in-laws, not knowing what their fate would be the next day. Until the entire mentality is changed and women begin to be appreciated as pillars of honour and development, Africa will continue to be underdeveloped.
Kunle Adeogun, Nigeria

Living in Somalia I know how important women are to the society I live in. In fact many are the head of households. Yes we've many issues including education problems, circumcision. How much of this story is sensation and out of context I wonder!!! I wish one of your reporters can come down to Galkayo or Bosaso and see the difference women are making as teachers, doctors, enterpreneurs, homemakers, environmentalists and as politicians. Come to Somalia and see not just bad side that makes news but the positives as well...
Halima Warsame, Galkayo, Somalia

Don't get it wrong. The African society respects mother and the African woman. It only believed women have certain roles to play. It is not what a man can do a woman can do stuff. Sometimes these things just get abused by some western scholar who knows very little about Africa. The African man also has a different concept of love, marriage, and life from the west. It would do well if westerners just try to understand Africa.
George Onmonya Daniel, Nigeria

The lack of prosperity in these societies leads to assigning a woman's worth to her ability to bear children. The bread earners in these societies are largely male, and often a woman's ability to bear children plays a crucial role in selecting a mate.
Mohamed Abdullah, U.S.A /Somalia

Child bearing among Africans is the underling and the basis for every marriage. Let's not pretend that alternatives such as adoption can solve the psychological and physical trauma childless couples go through. No matter their status, a childless african couple will still experience the discomfort and shame.
Freeman Tettey, Accra, Ghana

A woman can be divorced for not having children on the assumption that there is something wrong with her. No woman can divorce a man on the same grounds.
Zano Masanga, Harare, Zimbabwe
It is not right to look down the values of the societies that govern themselves in their own ways. It doesn't mean that females are not respected, it just means that she can't participate in the rituals when some duties are not fulfilled. Trying to impose our values disrupts the eh social structure which is well functioning. The Somali society govern themselves in their own way...singling out an event is not constructive. Accept the societies as they are and let them evolve in their own way.
Ted, Norway

The level of importance placed on having children to women is the same everywhere. In the west women would go to the extent of stealing babies.
Edmond USA/Sierra Leone

Every normal being feels complete when they share their lives with their off spring. I love my four boys and I do not know what I could do without them. You can replace a husband or wife, but you can never replace a child. To what extent I would go as a woman to get a baby would not include drinking concoctions of herbs because I hate drugs of any sort, either scientific or the local ones. I would not adopt because I would not be attached to that child emotionally, so the answer for me is I don't know how far I would go.
Shuttie Florence Namakau Libuta, Kitwe, Zambia.

In Zimbabwe a man can have two or three wives of them to himself as if they are sheep or cattle, while a woman cannot have two husbands. A woman can be divorced for not having children on the assumption that there is something wrong with her. No woman can divorce a man on the same grounds. Instead the family of the man secretly finds her a fertile man to do the deed. There are many issues here which need attention but the issue of women's role in African society is not about to be resolved . It is too entrenched.
Zano Masanga, Harare, Zimbabwe

I think this debate is not balanced at all...you can't just take an extreme case and put like it is the commonality. There are narrow minded people who will think this is how Somalis view their women. We are Muslims and in Islam women are the center of the community period.
Hussein, Malmö /sweden

A woman could be accepted within the African society even if she is childless. The only snag though is, she will always be a loser at the end in the sense that she cannot inherit from the husband when he dies. If she manages to survive her husband there will be no consideration given to her by the husbands family, and will have to leave the home where she might have worked so hard with nothing.
Alusine Conteh, USA

A real man knows what a woman is. We have to respect our women. The worth more.
Jaalle Soomaali, Somaliya

It's essentially an offensive and dehumanising thought to measure the worth of a woman by the children she bears. Let's also ask if children are worth more than the mother who bears them or better still, if they are more human. Anyone who tries to judge a woman's worth only from her child bearing clearly ridicules and challenges the whole purpose of human life.
Tvtandia Cameroon/S.Korea

Those who say a woman is worth nothing without children are narrow minded.
Kondiwani, Zambia

Indeed most women want to have children but those who say a woman is worth nothing without children are narrow minded and need to open their eyes and see what's behind the picture. US television chat show host, Oprah Winfrey for instance has no children but is worth over a billion dollars more than enough money to feed everybody in Sudan for a day.
Kondiwani, Zambia

A Somali man has a mother, sister, wife and daughter like any other man in the world. The Somali culture is known for the respect it gives to women. I have been following the tragic incident in Mogadishu. I am greatly disappointed to hear the court compensated the Abdulle family for $2000 dollars.
Farah Abdulle Mohamed, Australia

I am against the family demanding compensation from the Doctor.
Abdirashid Dahir Ali Jumale, Somalia

Getting a baby involves effort from both the man and the woman. Why is it that if a couple fails to get a child, the woman is blamed. Why not the man? To me, if a woman fails to bear children in her life but she produces happiness at home and in society, fine!! We should appreciate the woman (wife) as we do appreciate our mother.
Mujib Mubarak Badrudeen, Uganda

It is interesting how comments from the so called "modern, developed, and civilised" nations (i.e UK, Canada, USA) are so quick to accuse African societies of being primitive and need to "conform to the dictates of modernism" as written by Igonikon Jack from the US. Being a woman who has travelled and lived all over the world, I would argue that chauvinism is not only apparent ALL over the world but societies in developed nations have a clever way of glossing it over so as to show their women are "liberated" and women in African and Asian societies are not. If in one society a woman's worth is her child bearing capabilities, in another it's if she is worth her wearing enough makeup. Which is worse?
Reshma Ramani, Australia

No, a woman is worth everything not only the children she bears. In our culture (Kuku in Kajo-kaji southern Sudan) a woman is a symbol of unity. She brings joy and happiness to the family she is married into and also because she is hard working, she brings with her economic prosperity and development. When she bears children, then that is an added advantage she brings. In other words, without the woman, the economic backbone of Africa will be broken.
Dominic Woja Maku, Canada

Respect is a very vital ingredient to peace and harmony in any given institution. It shouldn't matter where you are in the world, women deserve to be treated like human beings. For a long time we, as the child-bearing sex, have been ill treated and disrespected throughout the world. Let's be cultured and stop this kind of violence. Not only does it hamper national development but it does deprive children the right to grow up knowing that their mothers are very special people, treasured and respected by of course..the other sex.
Kesego Kebelaele, Botswana

Being unable to bear children not only affects the women but also the men who are infertile.
Nadifo Muse, Canada

As matter of fact, being unable to bear children not only affects the women but also the men who are infertile. They are also deserted in some societies in many parts of the world. This happens more in societies where marriage is arranged rather than based on and created by love and mutual respect. In Mrs Abdulle's case, had the doctor get consent from her first and her immediate relatives, this dispute would not have occurred in the first place.
Nadifo Muse, Canada

Yes... Well so is man for that matter. Hence the legacy one leaves behind is often revaluated by the quality of his or her children.
Gideon, UK

This is unbelievably retarded, and I apologise for the foul language. Our various cultures all over the continent always tell us to respect women; but in retrospect, I have to admit that the reason why we were told to respect women, was because they could potentially be someone's mother. But what is even more disheartening is when I see some of my African brothers here asking for wives to be sent to them from their villages back home, because they want to dominate them. We are in deep trouble.
Ali M Mamina, USA (Congolese)

Well, we live on a continent where a woman is a human being only because she has children. I am single and I have no child. I work in the media, and my colleagues were once overheard saying because I have no other "commitments" at home my whole concentration is on my job and I am always harassing them about work. It is also a sort of stigma to be childless and you find your colleagues "throwing it in your face". Children are security for the future. Without children, in Africa, one is reduced to sub human status. One can look after a thousand children, but at the end of the day the bottom line is they are not your BIOLOGICAL children and you are to be "pitied".
Awura-Ama, Ghana

Somalia is 100% a Muslim nation but the teachings of Islam do not include local beliefs and cultures which are still strongly practised by some.The cause of all this killings and threats to doctors is ignorance and greed.
Nasra A Samatar, Minneapolis, USA

I think it is a very sad situation for any African woman to be in. Not only do you have to worry about your own childlessness but also how your in-laws and society views you. Upon the death of one's husband, a childless wife often has to return to her family home. In a polygamous society it is worse because a husband can take on a second wife with the excuse that you cannot bear children for him.
Jaye, Gambia

As a married man, I will never ever risk my loving wife's life for a child. I only have one nine year old daughter and there is a growing pressure from my family and kin including my wife's to have a son or one more child. I am not and will not risk my wife's life for the shake of a child considering there is a great risk for her to bear another child. As far as I am concerned no one can give up or let a loved one suffer or die for the sake of having a new one who may not even come at all.
Ghana Gurung, Nepal

When a woman bears children, her authority, importance and influence grows more than when she is childless. In Somalia, where Faduma Abdulle belongs, the belief is the more children a woman has, the more her life may improve. Many children in Somalia die for various reasons so if someone has more children, some will die while some will survive.
Kulmiye, UK

When a woman bears children, her authority, importance and influence grows more than when she is childless.
Kulmiye, UK

In Africa, women do all kinds of work meant for men, collecting wood fire, feeding kids, working on the farm, selling milk you name it. The women in Africa are the toughest woman in the whole world and worth more than life.
Guled, Somalia

I think it is wrong to reduce a woman's worth to the number of children she can bear. It is saddening and disheartening that my Somali brethren have been reduced to this. The actions of Mrs. Abdulle's family have, I believe, more to do with opportunism than anything else.
Adan Jibril al-Noor, Erigavo, Puntland

Women in Somalia are the most important pillar of the family. Whether her role is to raise children, to be a wife or more importantly to be an activist in her community. ,Women have the right to choose how they want to live.
Abdirahman T , Minneapolis, USA

This is indeed a sad thing which unfortunately is still practised in many African communities. This kind of action reduces a women to mere children producers which I think is very ridiculous. People need to face the realities of life more soberly instead of clinging to very primitive ways which don't have any room in a modern society. I respect our cultures (ways of life) but with the realisation that not every cultural practice is worth clinging to. People must accept the changes that take place in life as the society becomes more open and people from all walks of life and different places mingle freely.
George Odhiambo, South Africa

African women have traditionally been the "backbone" of the economy. Economic circumstances are changing, and now more than ever women's contributions to the economy are sorely needed and growing. Whereas my great - grandmother had to till the fields and produce as many babies as necessary to help her in the fields for the good of the family and society at large, today I have no fields of note, I don't really know the basics of subsistence farming (yes I'm a city girl - and scared of a mere chicken to boot). Furthermore, I encourage my child, and would encourage my future children to follow their dreams, regardless of their sex or gender. As a mother of one child I consider my worth mutually exclusive from hers. I don't know what "worth" really is, but I am currently pursuing my masters degree; probably something I would not be able to do if I had say ten children. As for the second question: "to what extent would you go to get a baby?", I can really only answer as an individual. If I feel the need for other children, and given my health status (I almost died giving birth), I would first seek out a surrogate mother --I am married-- and if that fails, I'll adopt. There are plenty of kids who need a home, and my husband and I are very willing to provide one and integrate a child into our little family.
Wanjiru, USA, originally Kenyan

We have to seriously look at the importance, children play in marriage between a man and woman. Without children how can a couple seriously look forward to old age. This particular case highlights the role a child plays in a successful relationship.
Mubarak Salah, United Kingdom

As a mother of one child I consider my worth mutually exclusive from hers.
Wanjiru, USA

Africa in particular, where civilisation (Egypt) was born is still living in the dark ages with respect to the value of women. Women are no longer the properties of men, likewise, they are worth more than their children and whatever society has made them to be. They are valuable as wives, mothers, sisters and colleagues. I am a man, but saddened by the disgusting treatment of women around the world, even in developed countries.
Victor Mass, Sierra Leone/USA

My mother gave me life and became sick. A childless mother gave me love and I returned the love by becoming her son. The name I have was her brother's. Unfortunately many childless women were and still continue to be rejected and sometimes put to death because they believe you may be a witch. The world's moral conscience must protect them at an international level.
Henry Williams, New York/Sierra Leone

Regardless of protestations to the contrary, if there is a Muslim country out of 56 where women enjoy equal rights, are protected from male violence and are actually 'seen' without being hidden by some hideous tent like garment, please tell me where this country is?
Cassandra, New Zealand

The fact is that the removal of the uterus was not the real issue but the realisation that she will never give birth to a child. The stigma associated with it especially in a society where a child is valued more than its mother and a woman's worthiness is measured by her ability to reproduce is great. It is very rare for couples to last long in a childless marriage. Unlike in the West where delayed childbearing and permanent childlessness has become a norm, many other parts of the world, childless women are deprived of the most central element of their gender identity and personal integrity, they see themselves as being separated from their family and friends who have children. As in this case, "the sorrow of infertility for a happy couple can be compared with sorrow of bereavement". Fertility is highly prized in Somalia. Women without children suffer social rejection and are made to feel personally inadequate. Male fertility, on the other hand, is a taboo subject, to be concealed at all costs.
Said Hassan, London

That is the sad truth in most parts of our developing world. It's the children who matter most and after that the woman is discarded like an old toy usually for a younger one. It's sadder in Somalia where development is at a standstill. In other parts of Africa though, things are slowly changing. Through education, women are increasingly making their own decisions where their welfare is concerned and there is usually no need for their husbands to sign their death warrants should the situation arise.
Rue, Zimbabwe/USA

I'm originally from Somalia. The two people that I consider my true heroes and role models are my mother and my older sister - both Somali women. As Somalis, we have unlimited respect for our women, who are our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives.
Yusuf, Seattle, USA

Besides being a mother, many African societies have failed to find a deserving role for a woman. Let us regard any woman the way we would our mothers. A little respect humanises every woman beyond being a child-bearing individual.
Ibrahim , Toronto, Canada

Any tradition that overly and exceedingly appreciates and justifies a woman's value mostly for her reproductive capacity and proclivity for marriage should be reformed, updated and liberalised to conform to the dictates of modernism and human rights and dignity. In this age, it's not uncommon for women to delay raising children, and, sometimes, marriage, for career reasons--a benefit, generously applied to their male counterparts. Women liberation should not be left within the confines of western societies or citadels of ivory-tower intellectualism. It should be propagated with the gospel of gender equality and libertarianism still frustrated by traditional and villagistic obstructionism of African, chauvinistic societies.
Igonikon Jack, USA

A woman is never accepted if she has no child of her own.
George Onmonya Daniel, Nigeria

In a typical African society a woman is only worth her children. Even amongst educated African society it is the same. A woman is never accepted if she has no child of her own. Adopting another woman's child is not an option. In most cases these women spend all their time and money going to churches, witch doctors, Imams and all sort of spiritualists to get answers to their problems. They live hoping for miracles. That is why churches and mosques are always filled up.
George Onmonya Daniel, Nigeria

A woman can be without a child but her virtue accrues attention by children who relate and attend to her as they will their own biological mother. So a woman for me is worth her virtue.
Christian Merenini, Nigeria

In many parts of Africa, marriage is for child production and not for love, this has led to poverty in many communities. To some african men, the more children he has, the wealthy he appears to others - What a fallacy!! A woman should be regarded as a person and not for her reproductive purpose! Mrs Abdulle's family should be grateful her life was spared! Thank God for education and family planning!
Cyril Okocha, U.K (Nigerian)

Its a pity that women who don't bear children are looked down upon, but it's God who blesses us with children. If he chooses not to, it doesn't mean that we are outcasts. God gives and for reasons best known to him, he can deny us this right.
Wamuwi Lifuna, Lusaka, Zambia

Just as water is essential to life so are women. I have three daughters that I cherish. I am committed to educating them and hope they will find careers other than raising children. As for Mrs Abdulle's family, I do not think they are concerned about the well being of the woman. They just want the money.
Abdinasir Hirey, Somali

I believe, the average Somali man respects Somali women more than a European would respect his female counterpart.
Fatima Hassan, Hargeisa, Somaliland

The story emanating from Somalia not only borders on insanity but also reflects a very primitive mind set. It is high time traditionally conservative practices were changed in Africa to reflect the modern dynamics of life. This is where formal education coupled with sound leadership comes in. Countries that have fully integrated the entire citizenry into national development endeavours always reap immensely.
Jacob Agola, U.S.A

I, myself, am a Somali woman. As a human being, I feel worthy and my husband and children feel so too. Somali women enjoy being daughters, sisters and mothers. I believe, the average Somali man respects Somali women more than a European would respect his female counterpart. This has been the culture and tradition for many years. Having said this, when there is chaos, poverty and lack of rational thinking anything can be made to be worth less than it really is. In Mogadishu, the widespread hostility and decade old war has reduced the norms to nothing. You can not make such a conclusion that all Somali women, no matter where she is, is worth less than her children. Come to Hargeisa or elsewhere to Somaliland, you will find that we Somali women are worth more.
Fatima Hassan, Hargeisa, Somaliland

As a pregnant women who was told I would never have kids after a car wreck years ago, I feel closer to nature and my purpose to have this being growing within me. If I had not been able to have children I would have adopted. And if a women is only worth the children she can conceive it would seem more women would be nurtured, protected and venerated as sources of life. Yet throughout the world women are at lowest levels of poverty, education and wage earning. Women also face more discrimination and abuse, especially for straying outside of the social boundaries of their cultures. In the same instance there are millions of children around the world who need good homes and loving arms to embrace them. What of their potential? The hypocrisy of men knows no bounds.
Betise Worley, United States


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