Hlengiwe Mnguni

Where was the father?

2010-07-29 10:00

We kick off Women’s Month in just two days. The government and other organisations will roll out awareness programmes dealing with issues affecting women. Public figures and celebrities will don their ribbons in support of the cause; and whether there is some credibility to the criticism of our date-obsessed awareness, some good will be done.

But for me this emphasis reminds me again that South Africa has a long way to go before women can even begin to feel truly equal to men in all roles played by each. While we must always guard against the over over-classification of women as victims of injustice, we must beware of the burdens silently placed on women by cultural roles.

The problems of women abuse and general inequality continue to be fought by some commendable people within communities, NGOs and in government institutions - but there are still fundamental inequalities that some among us seem to have accepted as part of life.

When the corpse of a dead baby was found in a field in Soweto about a week ago, most anger was directed at the “evil” mother who could even think of doing such a thing. Questions about where the father was were drowned out by the hostility towards the unknown mother who was assumed to have committed this act.

It is the most horrific things a mother can do to a child – a human being can do to another. It is inexcusable.

But it must still be said how worrying it is how, even after years of gender equality being on South Africa’s national agenda, very little mention was made of the father by those that chose to speak out.

Where was he?

He has the moral responsibility to know the type of person he was conceiving a baby with. And did he never wonder what happened to the baby?

Sadly, it is most likely that he did not care what type of person he was sleeping with; or what circumstances they were living in.

Biology has made sure that it is impossible for a woman to completely shirk off the responsibility of having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Whatever choice she chooses to make will stay with her for life. It is easier for boys and men, especially in cases where there is a lot of instability, to pretend that nothing happened and move on. Society allows it.

True justice for that, or any other baby found dumped, would be if the identities of the fathers were as much a priority as that of the mothers. It would help determine how much of a factor the father's actions were on the tragic fate of the baby they helped create so that charges can also be brought against him.

Until the responsibility of children born to unfit or teenage mothers is undoubtedly acknowledged as shared by two people, there will be no hope for respite in these grim discoveries in open fields and dustbins.

This is obviously a problem with many underlying factors. It is even likely that making fathers take more responsibility won't make a staggering change, but making it a purely feminine problem deepens it.

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