The stigma that follows infertile women more often than not leads to complex and devastating consequences. These range from isolation, ostracism, discrimination, disinheritance, physical and psychological assault and even divorce.
“Merck More than a Mother” is a pan-African initiative that aims to build fertility capacity, raise awareness about prevention of infertility and male infertility. It also opens a dialogue to define interventions to reduce the stigma and social suffering of infertile women in Africa.
Through “Empowering Berna” project “Merck More than a Mother” will support infertile women who can’t bear children anymore to establish their small business so that they can re-build their own independent and happier lives. They can be More Than Mothers.
“It is very important to empower infertile women through improving access to awareness and fertility care so they can bear children as part of their human rights. In case they can no longer be treated, “Empowering Berna” project will contribute towards empowering and training them to establish their own small business so that they can be independent and re-build their own lives, A Woman is More Than A Mother, “Empowering Berna” initiative will prove this every day,” says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.
Four women have so far been supported through “Empowering Berna” to establish their small business and are now more than mothers – proud, independent and happier. All of them have suffered isolation, discrimination, physical and psychological assault and even been disinherited and divorced due to infertility. Below are the stories of 4 women, their sufferings and life transformation after meeting “Merck More than a Mother”.
- Berna Amullen Empowered, Independent and Happier
Berna Amullen is a Ugandan woman who became infertile as a result of an untreated sexually transmitted disease. She was diagnosed too late to be given proper treatment and she lost the hope of being a mother and living a happy life.
This experience left Berna with so much agony she says. “I used to work with my husband, but he sold off all that we had acquired together so that he could marry another wife. He called for a large clan meeting and publicly disowned me. He even took away the farming fields that the elders had apportioned me. I was just left with a hut. He called me that stupid, barren and hopeless woman. ‘She has no use here,’ he said”.
Through the “Empowering Berna” project, Berna has been able to establish a chicken farm that has helped bring back her confidence and dignity. The society now looks at her as a woman of substance.
“I used to live under tough conditions before this project up-lifted me as a woman, I am now happy and my business is progressing well. I am lucky to have been able to begin a chicken project. I own a poultry house and chicken that I feed every day. I am very happy that this project has changed my life,” Berna proudly says.
- Grace Kambini Empowered To Stand on Her Own Feet
Fifty-seven year old Grace Kambini from Kenya realized nine years into her marriage that she could not give birth. Both her husband and his relatives started abusing and insulting her. These extended to her home where she was tortured and frequently denied food for weeks at a time. Her husband did not care about her woes.
Her husband of 10 years divorced her and she started living alone with no one to support or advise her. “Merck More than a Mother” helped Grace to stand on her own feet by building a small local kitchen and cafeteria for her. In addition, Grace will also be enrolled with the Kenya Chamber of Commerce – Women in Business which will help her to network with other entrepreneurial women, thereby giving her a platform to generate even more business.
“My suffering and stressful life is over now I am a new person. I can now walk with my head up knowing that I have a great business that will sustain me. I am very happy with this program and I wish that Merck can continue helping many other desperate people in this world,” says Grace with a smile.
- Chinelo Azodo Empowered To Take Good Care of Herself
Chinelo Azodo from Nigeria is 45 years old, childless and a widow. Since getting married 13 years ago with the hope of getting children immediately and none coming, her life was been very difficult and full of ridicule and abuse from her family and community.
Chinelo has suffered constant abuse from her family and this has made her life even more miserable. “Outsiders call me an old childless woman and mock me, asking me about who will help me in my old age, whether the goats and dogs will help me with the chores. These words really hurt me and I usually cry about such insults,” Chinelo says.
Her husband passed on in 2015 leaving her a widow and at the mercy of her in-laws. She is at risk of being thrown out of her matrimonial home after the traditional mourning period is over since her husband is now dead and she has no children to show from her marriage.
Chinelo has been a tailor earning less than $30 per month. “Merck More than a Mother” has come to Chinelo’s aid and have helped her venture into a new business and she is now the proud owner of a restaurant. This has restored her faith and desire to continue living. She no longer feels hopeless. She is now able to earn about US$ 120 per month up from the US$30 she got from providing tailoring services.
Chinelo says: “Before this I used to walk around stitching peoples’ torn clothes with my sewing machine. But now with the restaurant I can now take good care of myself. People say my food is delicious, I have earned their respect because of Merck, they no longer insult me. I can now earn a better living and also save money towards adopting a child. I am a very happy woman I dance all the time.”
- Noonkipa Mpalush Empowered To Become A Productive Member of Society
Noonkipa Enole Mpalush, a 55 year old childless Maasai woman lives in the heart of Kenya. Her husband left her 15 years ago because she could not bear children. She was constantly blamed and the finger pointed at her over the fact that she could not bear children; she was made to feel as if she was the sole problem for not being able to bear children in her marriage.
“Being an oppressed infertile Maasai woman is the worst thing that can happen to anyone,” Noonkipa says sadly.
As part of the initiative to empower and train women so that they can re-build and live independent and happier lives, “Merck More than a Mother” has provided Noonkipa with two cows to enable her to become a productive member of society. Each cow can produce six litres of milk per day. With two cows, she will be able to make around USD 6 (Ksh 600) per day.
“But now my life has changed with the help of Merck, I am happy and proud because I can support myself. Now I am more than a mother”, says Noonkipa with a beaming smile.”
The campaign will make a huge difference because it covers most, if not all, of the relevant angles of the infertility in the continent, such as :
- Create a culture shift to respect and appreciate the infertile women in Africa
- Raise awareness about infertility prevention and management and male infertility by integrating it into healthcare infrastructures such as HIV, maternal health and mother and child programs.
- Education and training for African embryologists since lack of trained and skilled staff is a big challenge, and we have started our first training for African embryologists to improve access to effective and safe fertility care in the continent.
- Defining ART policies to improve access to regulated fertility care.
- Building advocacy and open dialogue with governments, policy makers, parliaments, healthcare providers and media to define interventions to reduce the social suffering and improve access to regulated, effective and safe fertility care in Africa.
- Empowering infertile women through access to awareness, health and change of mindset and empower women who cannot be pregnant anymore through starting a small business for them to build their independent and happy lives through “Empowering Berna“ Initiative.
Join The Campaign – Together, We Create A Culture Shift
“I would like to ask you to take a moment and watch the campaign’s videos and TV interviews and join the “Merck More than a Mother” social media campaign to reduce stigma, create awareness and define interventions to improve access to better fertility care in Africa”. Says Rasha Kelej
More barren women have been enrolled in empowering Berna project , stay tuned to follow their stories of transformation.
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