The Cruelty That Is Demanding Domestic Labour From Pregnant Women

I grew up watching Nollywood movies and movies from the African Magic Yoruba franchise. Some of my earliest memories involve renting movies from home video rental shops and watching them with family and friends.

One memory that stands out for me is the day a DSTV satellite dish was installed in our flat by my father. I was overjoyed because it meant that I could watch lots of movies on channel 114 which was the channel for African Magic.

Before the introduction of the satellite dish, one movie I remember getting from the rental shop was Aye Olomo Kan. Produced by Funke Akindele, it follows the life of an only child who gets married without knowing how to do domestic chores. This is such that her husband starts sleeping with the househelp and gets the househelp pregnant. 

On learning about her husband’s infidelity, Funke Akindele’s character becomes more submissive and starts cooking and cleaning the house more often, after which she begs for his forgiveness for not being domestically efficient.

Now, when I was younger, I watched the movie and knew there was something wrong. Even though as a kid I was aware of gender roles and how etched they were in the value system of most African societies, something still did not feel right about the movie.

Growing older made me question why a family meeting had to be called because the main character could not cook. 

Furthermore, I questioned why in that same meeting, one of the women said that pregnancy or the lack thereof is no excuse for a woman not to cook for her husband; according to her, she cooked when pregnant.

If one is conversant with most Nigerian weddings and conversations on cooking, there are two things that are noticed. During a wedding, each partner is asked to feed the other to publicly show how they will take care of each other when sick or pregnant. 

In some other instances, even conservative people seem to agree that although cooking is the “job” of the woman, when she is pregnant or has travelled, the man has to step in and do her “job”.

The reality is however different. Even when pregnant and dealing with backpain, nausea, morning sickness and nosebleeds, several African women are still expected to do domestic work as they also work outside the home to supplement finances. There are pregnant women who stand a risk of experiencing violence should they complain or seek to rest. And why is that?

Why have we created such an unfair and gendered world that expects staggering levels of unequal domestic labour even from women who are in the process of ensuring humanity does not die out?

Furthermore, why do we peddle the lie during weddings and marriage ceremonies that the woman can expect to be taken care of when sick or with child? Is it not an insult to the dignity of women that we are made to believe in the presence of wedding guests, that we will be treated with care, but the exact opposite happens?

Speaking with Deinsebobo, a feminist and communications professional, she explains that demanding labour from pregnant women is cruel because it exposes the mother to risk and can lead to loss of pregnancy.

In her words: “Carrying a baby is already so stressful, any small mistake can lead to a miscarriage, and possibly loss of life of the carrier. It is inhumane to expect a woman in that situation to continue to undergo strenuous tasks . 

Yes women have done it and survived, yet they should not have had to. If we cannot build on our mistakes then why are we in the future?”.

If we praise the act of being a mother, it is imperative that we make the process of being a mother a bearable one.

When motherhood means sacrifice, the loss of opportunities and the loss of even life due to a demand in domestic labour by able bodied violent husbands, it should not come as a surprise when women choose not to be mothers.

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