SOCIETY TALK

Single mums ‘pandemic’: Where are the fathers?

It begs the question of whether it is more a lack of responsible fathers

In Summary

• Single mothers are often left with the burden after hit and run by men, if not divorce

• Ironically, however, the most venomous attacks on single mothers come from men

Lately, I have noticed an increase in the resentment towards single mothers wherever I happen to read posts or comments on the subject. For some naïve reason, I had come to believe that society has come a long way to embrace single mothers who are dedicated into raising their families. However, the subject of single motherhood is one that never seems to progress even in these modern times.

A few weeks ago when I wrote about the Shaffie Weru case posing the question, ‘Will playing hard-to-get solve gender-based violence?’ a reader took up the opportunity to link the subject of women going out with the wrong men to single motherhood. He wrote, “This kind of misinformation/miseducation is what has led to a 'single mum' pandemic in this country. Tell women the cold, hard truth they need to hear: ladies, only go out with people you are attracted to…”

 The Kenyan in me could not help but wonder, “Sasa huyu…” Surely, how were the two subjects related? I realised the most venomous attacks on single mothers come from men.

Men have been at the forefront of condemning single mothers by finding faults with the women, including blaming them for not keeping a man. Since it takes two to tango, this brings us to the age-old question: Where are the fathers? Why is society so quick to condemn a woman for bearing the heavy responsibility of raising her child alone yet the men who father these children are roaming the streets carefree?

For the sake of clarity, we need to talk about the several types of situations that lead to women often being single mothers. The first example is the classic situation, which we are all familiar with. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl pregnant, boy quotes Shaggy and says, “It wasn’t me” as he walks away. Second situation is man and woman get married and start a family, man gets frustrated and abandons ship, leaving the woman to raise the children. The third situation is the one where women are choosing to be single mothers either by adoption or sperm donors.

The latter option has become increasingly popular in recent times as women find it easier to have a family without the complications of a relationship. While the first example is the most common situation, it is the second example that often stymies me. How does a man, who knowingly and wholeheartedly started a family, abandon the very same children he raised so tenderly in the first stages of their lives?

As a person who hails from a conservative, family-oriented culture, I cannot help but gawk at the double standards set forth by the society. Many divorced Muslim women are raising their children having been completely abandoned by the ex-husbands. I know of one situation where the father lives less than seven kilometres from his children but has not seen them in four years!

I cannot help but wonder, where are the elders, parents, grandparents, clerics who preach religion and family so passionately? Why is no one holding these men accountable for their actions? Furthermore, how does one abandon his own children who he loved so dearly at one point? There are some circumstances where fathers abandon their families even as their children are in their twenties!

During my formative years in undergrad school, I witnessed many of my schoolmates get pregnant. While it was evident who the mothers were, no one ever seemed to care who the fathers were. No one really thought about it until one day during the discussion, a man said, “There are fathers in this class, we just can’t tell who they are because they are not the ones who are pregnant.”

I wonder if anyone has ever thought of the big picture repercussions. Consider this: 30 years into the future, a boy and a girl meet and fall hopelessly in love. Both raised by single mothers or by stepfathers but never knowing their birth fathers. What if the two lovebirds share a biological father? This is just an extreme example of the consequences of absentee fathers.

Many situations and circumstances lead women into being single mothers. However, more often than not, these women did not choose this particular lifestyle; they just make the best of a desperate situation. Therefore, before we make malicious remarks to single mothers, shouldn’t we normalise asking the most important question of all: Where are the fathers?