Since the conception of time, the role of a mother has been held in high regard. A mother creates life and shapes the future of a child. Her love is pure and her sacrifices are endless. Movies are constantly made on the various aspects of motherhood; stories about working moms juggling responsibilities, stay-at-home moms finding work, single moms filling a father’s shoes. There is Mother’s Day to celebrate their greatness.
Even in Islam, Allah has placed paradise underneath a mother’s feet- not with the father. Given the socio-cultural emphasis on motherhood, having children has become intrinsically tied up with the very definition of a woman: a wife and mother. But not every woman is able to have children and this is not a flaw for which she should be punished.
According to Dr. Sumaira Naz- a gynecologist and infertility expert at Aga Khan University Hospital- one in every six Pakistani women face infertility issues and this number is constantly rising. ACIMC Chief Executive Officer Dr Syed Sajjad Hussain believes, “Almost 15% couples are facing infertility problems and around 400,000 couples in Pakistan need treatment.” As per the Hameed Latif Hospital, there are about 20 fertility centers in Pakistan which offer IVF treatment and 2,000 patients who undergo the treatment every year.
Treating infertility issues requires both acceptance of the condition and a willingness to embark upon the difficult journey. But infertility continues to be a taboo in Pakistan. There is immense pressure placed upon women to conceive. Those who are unable to do so are shamed, beaten and shunned. Since the sole purpose of a wife is seen as a child making machine, if she is unable to do so, she is no longer seen as useful.
It is not uncommon in Pakistan for women to have divorce papers thrown at them for being infertile. Even love marriages have fallen apart when the wives could not conceive. Then the men turn to second wives. Although Islam gives permission for a second marriage, it also forbids a Muslim from mistreating their spouse. Marriage is a sacred bond and should not hinge upon a woman’s ability to bear children.
The Quran states ‘And one of His signs is that He has created for you, spouses from amongst yourselves so that you might take comfort in them and He has placed between you, love and mercy’ (Surah 30, Verse 21). Religion cannot and should not be used to justify discriminatory behavior towards childless women. But even from a religious standpoint, if an individual believes in God, then they must also submit to his will. It is repulsive for men to punish women for something that is beyond their control.
The toxic masculinity culture in Pakistan makes it very difficult for women to survive. Women are automatically blamed if the couple is unable to have a child. The possibility of her husband being infertile is too horrific for male ears. It must not be suggested out loud even if it is the reality. According to Dr Lubna Durrani, a gynecologist and infertility specialist at the Sindh Institute of Reproductive Health, around 10 to 15 per cent of the male population is sub-fertile.
As per data gathered by the center, the number of cases where men alone are responsible for childlessness has gone up to 30 per cent. On the other hand, andrologist Dr Gulfam Ahmad Baryar at the Lahore Institute of Fertility and Endocrinology, states a much higher figure. According to his study based on 1,700 patients, 39 per cent men were found to be infertile. And yet women are made to take the blame, the shame and the beatings across various social classes in Pakistan.
It is a myth that only the illiterate and underprivileged residing in rural areas take a hostile approach towards barren women. I personally know women who married well off educated men, only to be discarded for having fertility issues. Married couples should perceive the inability to have children as a shared concern. Who is to blame should be irrelevant. Treatment for infertility issues is available across Pakistan- albeit at a high cost.
Alternatively, couples can look into adoption i.e. taking children under their wing- as opposed to changing their identity- in accordance with Islamic laws. But in our society adoption is also a grave taboo. Despite housing a large number of orphans, it is rare to find couples who adopt in Pakistan. In 2016, Edhi alone wasregistered as a parent/guardian of nearly 20,000 children. Why not give these children a home and a family?
From a religious standpoint, looking after orphans is strongly encouraged in Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) is known to have said: “The best house of Muslims is one where an orphan is cared for.” But to bring another’s child into your home would be to accept you cannot have one of your own. Blood is thicker than water. What will people say? That is the next dilemma.
Globally in today’s day and age, gender based discrimination is no longer acceptable. The deaf and mute are considered as differently abled. Transgender persons are seen as equal citizens. And so there should be no shame in being unable to have a child. The world has moved on from ancient hate fueled perceptions and traditions. The question is: can we?