Women are not Baby Factories
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
June 7, 2024

Women are not Baby Factories

Our Prime Minister does not only have his hands full in trying to keep the ship of state on course, but since, like the rest of us he has only one brain, it must run the risk of being over flooded with ideas. His is a herculean task (some of his own making), trying to cope with the multitudinous challenges locally as well as fulfilling the many and ever-increasing international responsibilities.

It is very easy in such circumstances to make unfortunate statements even when well-meaning, so it is important to be very careful in public comments and to get appropriate advice in delicate situations. The PM himself is famous to preface statements by saying “I am advised”. So, many people, yours truly included, must have been surprised by the statement reported in

SEARCHLIGHT (31/05/24) and attributed to Dr. Gonsalves which urges women of child-bearing age (25-35 years) to have more children because of our falling birth-rate:

“We need them (women) to have more babies”, he is reported as saying. To his credit, the Prime Minister provided a rationale for his appeal, that being the falling birth rate. “We have to replenish the population which is stagnant and growing older”. While making it clear that he is not encouraging teenage pregnancy, (indeed his appeal is to working age women), and perhaps following in the footsteps of a predecessor whose advice was to “bat but don’t score”, he departs from the non-scoring advice, needing the female batters to score.

“The civilization has to find a way of replenishing itself and advancing”, he says. “It can’t be replenished by people from Mars; it has to be replenished by real flesh and blood women”. While it is commendable for the P.M. to raise such a serious demographical issue which has social and economic implications, it is unfortunate that it is put in a context as though we are discussing low manufacturing or agricultural production.

We are long past the stage when if there is a population problem, we simply call on women to either reduce the numbers of children or, as in this case, to step up “production”. Women are not baby factories, they are “real flesh and blood people” as the Prime Minister would remind us. The situation is far more complex than that and an appreciation must be shown for women’s productive rights as well as their domestic, occupational and social ambitions.

As the P.M. himself must be aware, there are several complex societal issues involved and it will take flesh and blood consideration on the part of all involved to find solutions. Having more children is not the only solution to a stagnating population so the discussion must be a holistic one. Whatever the solution arrived at, it can only be taken by the free choice of women, and we must all respect their choices.

We need to go beyond the old sexist approaches. If a baby boom is considered desirable, while it takes two to tango, it is women who bear the brunt of the burden of childbearing and child-rearing. Even where there is support from the other partner, it is women who carry the brunt of the burden. It is they who are often required to forgo personal and occupational opportunities, their time which is most sacrificed.

In recognition of these realities, the first step in handling the looming population challenge is for an open discussion of it, with emphasis on the participation of women. What are the choices before us? To what extent is migration contributing to the current situation and how can this be addressed?

Then there are the distinctly women’s issues pertaining to their reproductive and social rights. We must give the “flesh and blood women” a lead in this. Indeed, it would be good to hear frank views of the women in the Cabinet and administration on such issues, unencumbered by party affiliation or loyalty. Or is it that we are about to see a baby boom in those quarters?

At the end of it, for women to acquiesce to the decision to have more babies, it requires incentives by government to women of child-bearing age which address the challenges they must face. In so doing the society has to meet the many sacrifices involved. Each child decision has enormous social, economic and personal implications. We cannot just say that the population is falling, and women must make up the shortfall. We are long past that stage. So, we can start the debate on a more respectful level. What sacrifices by working women will be necessary? How is the broader society, including husbands and partners, to participate both in the discussion as well as in making the sacrifices necessary? What incentives would be appropriate if such a route is chosen?

It is important for women and their organizations of all types to take up the issues involved.



  •  Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.