Love All Children Regardless of Their Sex
Photo Credit: Madame Judith Vlafonou
What this project is all about
We are five Michigan State students working on creating books based on folktales by Storytellers of Benin, Africa. We are helping create these books so children and parents are able to read in their local language. In Benin, there is a literacy issue that complicates the lives of adults. Children in school are taught in French, so their books and studies are not in their local language. When children come home from school wanting to be helped or read to by their parents, the parents are sometimes unable to do so in French. Our anthropology professor helped our class connect with a community in Benin and MSU resources so we can provide books wrote by individuals in Benin in their native language. We believe this will be a great resource for the people of Benin, not only because it is in their native language but because these stories are written by them, about them. Most communities in Benin have to resort to reading books about other, more known cultures. These stories do not reflect their lives and experiences. So instead of reading about experiences that they go through, they must read books that don’t personally relate to. So those are some of the reasons we are extremely excited to create these books with individuals in Benin.
Our story is titled Love All Children Regardless of Their Sex, which explores the theme of gender preference and polygamy.
Before reading the story, some significant concepts should be explained further:
A goat was roasted at the party to ensure the wives would get pregnant with boys. The goat is believed to have this power to ensure the pregnancy with males.
The wives knew about the ceremony, except one. The other wives didn’t tell because they didn’t like the newest wife and felt jealousy towards her. This sometimes can happen within polygamous families.
Our Storyteller: Madame Angele Affovoh
“I thank God for the great number of children that he has given me. I have had twins three times.” -Madame Angele Affovoh
Madame Angele Affovoh is our Benin storyteller. Madame Affovoh Angele Affovoh was born in Porto Novo, Benin. She has four brothers and eight sisters. She has had twelve children in total, but has lost three; she gave birth to twins three times. Today she lives with her three daughters, her two daughters-in-laws, and her five grandchildren. Madame Angele is an evangelical christian. She takes care of her children on a daily basis, sells vegetables, and she sometimes goes to church. Her favorite pastime is singing and she loves eating palm nut sauce and noodles. Madame Angele Affovoh is from a polygamous family. Her father has multiple wives. She has experience with gender inequality, as she discusses below.
More information about Twins in Benin:
Benin has one of the highest rates in the world, and in neighboring Nigeria there is a town that has the highest rate in the world. Here are two articles that explore this more.
Here is a video introducing storytellers and children whom these books will be benefiting in Benin. Courtesy of Marcy O’Neil’s Youtube account.
Gender Preference and Polygamy in Benin
Gender preference and inequality is apparent in Benin, Africa and very much affects the lives of females.
A personal note about our storyteller’s experience:
“I can say that all children do not have the same chance of succeeding in school because the scholarship/scholarly opportunities we offer to girls and boys are not equal. It is this way because if the boys don’t succeed at school or in learning the whole family suffers. Everywhere in my village and also in my family there is a general preference for sons. Me for example, I am the only daughter in my family and they took me out of school because they thought it was an extra [special / supplementary] and non-useful expense.” -Madame Angele Affovoh
An essay summary titled, On Preference, Fertility and Family Structure: Evidence from Reproductive Behavior among Nigerian Women by Annamaria Milazzo talks about gender preference in Africa.
“This paper considers a country in Sub-Saharan Africa and finds that parental gender preferences do affect fertility behavior and shape traditional social institutions with negative effects on adult women’s health and well-being. Using individual-level data for Nigeria, the paper shows that, compared to women with first-born sons, women with first-born daughters have (and desire) more children and are less likely to use contraceptives. Women with daughters among earlier-born children are also more likely to have shorter birth intervals, a behavior medically known to increase the risk of child and maternal mortality. Moreover, they are more likely to end up in a polygynous union, to be divorced, and to be head of the household. The preference for sons is also supported by child fostering patterns in which daughters are substitutes for foster girls, while the same does not hold for sons and foster boys. These results can partly explain excess female mortality among adult women in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
This essay titled Gender Preferences in Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Fertility Choices by Pauline Rossi and Lea Rouanet expresses gender inequality and the affect on mothers.
“The most important motive put forward by the literature on gender preferences is the traditional structure of family systems. In patrilineal and patrilocal family systems, men are the fixed points in the social order, so that investment in daughters is considered as investment in another family’s daughters-in-law. Sons act as old age insurance for their parents, because they are the ones who remain in the family’s house. They also act as widowhood insurance for their mother, because widows’ claims on the late husband’s resources enjoy a higher social legitimacy if they have sons (Agarwal, 1994 ; Das Gupta et al., 2003). Mothers, in particular, really need a son because their status improves substantially when their sons get married. Ultimately, women play a dramatic role in the perpetuation and reinforcement of patriarchy.
All in all, we find robust evidence that son preference influences fertility patterns in North Africa: people tend to shorten birth spacing and to have additional children as long as they have not had enough sons. This has strong implications for gender inequality: an average girl would be weaned sooner, and would face more competition from her siblings, than an average boy. Moreover, women, as mothers, would put their own lives in jeopardy to ensure that enough sons are born. Policies aiming at reducing women’s reliance on sons, or equalizing the value of sons and daughters to their parents, could weaken the motives for son preference. Ultimately, they could help lengthening birth intervals and improving maternal and child health in North Africa.”
On the Social Institutions & Gender Index site male preference and polygamy is studied. Attitudes and practices in Benin restrict women and girls’ access to rights, justice and empowerment opportunities.
“In 2006 Benin adopted the 2006-2011 strategic guidelines for development which seek, among other things, the promotion of gender equality, women’s empowerment and improved social protection. In March 2009 the Government of Benin adopted a National Policy for Gender Promotion, which aims to achieve, by 2025, equality and equity between the sexes with a view towards sustainable human development. In January 2012, a law on the prevention and punishment of violence against women was enacted. The Code also outlawed polygamy (art. 143); however, polygamous marriage practices continue, with a reported 42.3% of women aged 15-49 declaring they were in such a marriage in the 2006 DHS.”
Read more: http://www.genderindex.org/country/benin
About Benin, WEST Africa
Information from Benin World Atlas:
Population: 9,877,292 (2013 est.)
Religion: Christian 42.8% (Catholic 27.1%, Celestial 5%, Methodist 3.2%, other Protestant 2.2%, other 5.3%), Muslim 24.4%, Vodoun 17.3%, other 15.5%.
Languages: French (official), Fon and Yoruba (most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages (at least six major ones).
- “In rural areas, the division of labor is usually clearly prescribed, with specific tasks assigned to men and women. Children are expected to help with chores. In polygynous families, the division of labor among co-wives is precise. The more senior a wife is, the more likely she is to havetime to pursue commercial interests.”
- “Because women marry into a patrilineal descent system, the children belong to the father. Because wives do not become part of the husband’s kin group, marriages tend to be brittle.”
Our StoryLove All Children-Fon-Pages
The completion of this book could have not been done without the effort, dedication, and time from Skyler Ashley, Lisa Drew, Chloe Wilson, Hannah Levy, and Jonathan Sollish.
Thank you for your time and efforts to adequately portray the people of Benin. Also, for ensuring the storybooks are engaging for the people of Benin.
We would like to thank the Three Sisters Education Fund (TSEF) for their passion in providing funds, and tutoring to serve the communities within Benin. We also appreciate your efforts in building an online library to expand the books available in languages that are often neglected to fight the ongoing literacy crisis.
Thank you to Sandrine Chikou, Anie Gandoto Semassoussi, and Judith Vlafonou for your devotion in working on the books, and for making the books applicable to Beninese culture with stories pertaining to the Benin society with pictures and illustrations to match. We appreciate your time and efforts in communicating across oceans to answer any questions we had, as well as delivering whatever tools were necessary in creating this book.
Shout out to Michigan State University Peace and Justice Studies for supporting, and developing ways to fight and change some of the world’s inequalities; for bringing justice to underserved areas.
We would also like to thank Veterans for Peace Chapter 93, who generously contributed funding for our printing.
Lastly, we would like to recognize LEADR for allowing us to use their media lab, and for offering their time and knowledge to help with creating the WordPress website. Your tutorials, and Q&A sessions helped tremendously.