Pro-Life in Africa: ‘What We Hold in Common Is This Value for Family’
WASHINGTON — Obianuju Ekeocha is the founder and president of Culture of Life Africa, an initiative dedicated to the promotion and defense of the sanctity of life, marriage, motherhood and families. A lifelong Catholic, she was born and raised in Nigeria. She is a biomedical scientist in hematology and works at a hospital in the United Kingdom.
“Uju” Ekeocha spoke with Register correspondent Sophia Feingold on April 11 in Washington, after her U.N. appearance. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
How did you get interested in life issues, and what led to the founding of Culture of Life Africa?
I was born in Africa, lived most of my life in Africa, went to university in Africa and even started my professional life there, working in a hospital. I’ve always been pro-life. I was raised in a society that did not have legal abortion — in a society where abortion could never be seen as a good thing. That was part of how I was educated as well. And many Africans can attest to having been raised in such a society. The fact that we don’t have legal abortion in different African countries is not just an oversight: Abortion is seen as a terrible thing. It’s a taboo, if you like, to kill a child who has no chance to defend himself.
I was raised in this pro-life society, so that, by the time I came to the West, it was a big shock for me that abortion was legal.
I was working in a hospital in England, in the pathology department (I am a biomedical scientist by training). Seeing how hospitals actually function in the U.K. … was very much a scandal, for me anyway: In one room a baby’s being delivered; in the next room, a baby is being killed. Sometimes they’re even the same age, if it’s a premature baby who is being born.
Still, I never thought that I had a role to play in the pro-life movement. … But in 2012, by sheer Providence, I got to watch an interview that Melinda Gates, the wife of Bill Gates, had on CNN, when she was launching her big contraceptive project that was to change Africa and the language of “population control” forever. She made it all about women’s well-being, even as she was pushing some of the most dangerous contraceptives that we have now on the market — some of the injectables. … I was quite disturbed by it and by the way she talked about it, as if this is the one thing that she believes that African women need. She talked about different trips that she had made to Kenya and how she saw women who told her that they needed contraception more than anything else. …
Having aunties and sisters and relatives who are in Africa — some are rich; some are poor; some are very educated; some are not educated at all — never in my life had I heard an African woman ask for contraceptives as the one thing she wants, or the first or primary thing that she needs for her life to be better. So I decided to write a letter … that became the open letter to Melinda Gates, pointing out that instead of putting so much money into contraceptives, instead of having a new movement for population control, if she wanted to help African women, she actually can spend the money on things like school projects for women, good education for women, microbusiness training, chastity programs, NFP programs — I was just naming things that I felt would be more productive, if she really wanted, as she was claiming, to help women.
I sent that letter to … a host on EWTN (Teresa Tomeo of Catholic Connection) … [who] read it on her show, and the letter just went viral. Eventually, the Pontifical Council for the Laity published it on its website, and then translated it, as well, into Spanish, so many more people got to read it. Eventually, through that, I started helping to advise some of our Catholic bishops in Africa back in 2012; and then I started writing a bit more, blogging; and then I formed Culture of Life Africa as a small blogging platform where I could tell the world some of these things: the African values on openness to life, how we feel about family and motherhood.
With time, I also started getting invited to attend some of the meetings at the United Nations, getting invited to speak at different places; and then I started trying to learn more about some of the policies and resolutions that were being passed around Africa and some of the Western organizations that were coming to Africa to promote so-called reproductive rights. Organizations like International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) had already established, unbeknownst to me and so many Africans, more than 11,000 centers all across the Sub-Saharan African region. They are promoting abortion and contraception; they are sterilizing people … and they are doing a lot of damage, I believe, to the African society.
From what you’ve said, it sounds as if you are describing pro-life issues as more of a cultural matter, more of a matter of tradition. Is that how you see it in Africa?
It is a combination, really.
Whenever you hear, or whenever one sees in the news, problems in Africa — things like drought, things like famine, you know, all these kinds of catastrophes — the one thing that remains resilient, whether this is from the religious point of view or not, is the family. Before even religion (which was something that came to Africa later, during the time of colonialization), first and foremost, the Africans value family and what makes family: a marriage; and what is within marriage, man, woman and children. So all of these things in practice form the core of African society. That is why we have less divorce, and that is why we have more openness to life — these things come first culturally.
But … a lot of Africans are also religious. Let’s just say that when religion came to us, it would have felt consistent with our cultural values. So [in] a lot of places, you have very strong Christian populations, and in some other places, you have very strong Muslim populations. But what we hold in common is this value for family life. And if the family life is valued, then, yes, things like abortion are seen as abominations, as taboo, as horrific. … It always is an ugly thing in the minds of people that a mother could ever kill her own, be it before birth, be it after birth — it’s all the same thing: that is, horrific.
One of the common perceptions in Europe and America is that contraception has liberated women, has given women the freedom to do what they want with their lives. As a woman, what do you think of this perception? What, really, is freedom for a woman?
Because I’m a scientist, I do go through a lot of the research, especially the papers that Guttmacher puts out — Guttmacher being, in my opinion, a very biased research institute that has undeniable links to Planned Parenthood. Going through even a lot of their own data, one can see that a significant proportion of the women who come in for abortions are still contracepting. So how much freedom is the contraception bringing to women?
What I believe is true freedom for women is, again, some of what I have seen in Africa. Yes, we do have contraception in Africa, and, yes, people are capable — no matter what anybody thinks — of getting contraceptives if they think it’s going to help them. I personally don’t think it’s helpful: pumping oneself with all these very harmful chemicals, just in order to be available for a man, 365 days a year, sexually. I don’t think that is actual freedom. And I know women who have the right view and who have the bigger picture in mind: that freedom is when one brings to the core of one’s life what is most important, which, I believe, is faith and family.
The one Scripture that I love so much is Micah 6:8, “What does God want from you, O man?” — and I’ll say “O, woman”! — “To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” That is true freedom. It’s that we can understand that what is most important is what we should try for.
Of course, this is looking mainly from a metaphysical point of view; but also from the general social point of view, I have also seen things like education bring in real freedom for women. … None of the people in my own circles can say, “Contraceptives brought me freedom.” But I know women to whom education brought freedom. Contraception does not bring anybody out of poverty. It hasn’t, from people I know, made all that much of a difference. But what makes a difference in people’s lives would be that one has the stability of family life and the security that they need, and employment and education and good health care. … These are the things that actually afford one that balance in life, to walk freely and to continue to seek in different ways to serve humanity. So, for me, this is freedom. Freedom is to hold onto that which is most important.
writes from Washington.
- June 26-July 9, 2016