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In Kenya, Pentecostal Christian moms tell husbands that girls are as good as boys

Girls play at school in western Kenya on Aug. 3, 2018. Male offspring are desired more than female children in Kenya. RNS photo by Tonny Onyulo

BUNGOMA, Kenya (RNS) — As she prepared lunch for her children outside her house in Mukhuma village in western Kenya, Joyce Nafula thought of her former husband and began to cry.

The two were married for 20 years and had six daughters.

Then — angered because Nafula had not given him a son — he found someone new and abandoned her and their daughters.

“My husband divorced me and told me to go away,” said the 49-year-old Nafula. “When I refused to leave, he started beating me and saying I was a cursed woman because I couldn’t bear him sons.”

Nafula, a Pentecostal Christian, is one among thousands of women in western Kenya and across Africa who face stigma for bearing daughters rather than sons. In this part of East Africa, baby girls are valued less than baby boys.

Traditional culture here dictates that a woman must give birth to a male child to be his father’s heir, said Geofrey Baraza, a local elder.

When a woman gives birth to a baby boy she is celebrated and becomes a “real woman” recognized by the community, he added.

“We are not despising baby girls,” said Baraza, 70. “But these girls will one time leave their homes and get married elsewhere. They will never stay at their parents’ homes to take care of the remaining family members. That’s the reason we demand that a woman gives birth to a son to take care of the home.”

Women who have no sons face ostracism.

“If a woman gives birth to only daughters, we consider that home being barren and cursed,” Baraza said. “A man is advised to get a son with another woman so that the son can continue with his father’s generation when he dies.”

To live up to the pressure, some women are now visiting witch doctors, hoping for supernatural powers to cleanse their wombs and produce baby boys.

“I’m searching for a baby boy,” said Cyntia Wanyonyi, 38, a Pentecostal Christian and mother of five girls who visited a witch doctor recently without success. “I will continue to give birth until I get a son. That’s the dream I have as a mother because I don’t want to lose my husband.”

Aure Nyongesa, a public health official in the region, said women who are pregnant become immediately depressed when ultrasound scans show they are carrying girls and not boys as they had expected.

“Most women begin to reject the children before even they are born,” he said. “In some instances, they even abort hoping to get a baby boy when they conceive again. That’s the problem we have observed from pregnant women when they come for regular checking during pregnancy.”

Bishop Philip Anyolo in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

But the tide is slowly turning. Religious leaders here in western Kenya are urging people in their communities to understand that the child comes from God and is of equal worth.

Bishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, blamed the culture for selling the idea of boys being superior to girls.

“This is very unfortunate. People should understand that a woman and a man have equal dignity before God,” he said. “They are all made in God’s image and likeness. So they are all equal before God and no one can do without the other. They are complementary.”

Anyolo said it is time for elders and locals to change their ways of thinking.

“We should not despise our girls,” said Anyolo. “They are as equal as our sons. The gospel of Christ should help us change the way we think and speak about our children. We should celebrate our daughters and sons, and treat them equally. They are a blessing from God.”

Wanyonyi prayed that the norms change soon.

“I wish the message reaches our people to change the way they think and to stop discriminating against women who cannot give birth to baby boys,” she said.  “I think this is going to save our marriages.”

Nafula agreed.

She hopes men in the community — like her former husband — will learn to love all their children.

“They need to give us time to love our daughters as they equally love their sons,” she said.

About the author

Tonny Onyulo

5 Comments

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  • Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

  • Lovely passage, I’m sure. How convenient that the author wrote “is” “all one,” and “in” as he did, since the different definitions of each of those words means thumpers can use that passage to justify or condemn the same acts, depending on what they had for breakfast.

  • Without a specific example to reference. I have no idea what you are explaining.

    In this instance, Galatians 3:28 is the typical “go to verse” that all Christians are sons and daughters of God. There are no exceptions, no inequalities. All Christians alike, no matter what their race, status, or sex, stand on the same footing before God.

  • Exactly, steam!! Of course you have “no idea what I’m explaining.” That’s because you lack and/or choose not to use advanced critical thinking skills. Why else do you think you bought into the whole deity worship thing in the first place?

  • It is precisely because of advanced critical thinking skills that I accepted the gift of eternal life that Jesus Christ gave.
    For example, science and medicine alone cannot reasonably explain Joan of Arc which leads many to believe she was indeed on the level when she stated “I was in my thirteenth year when I heard a voice from God to help me govern my conduct.”

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