By Isatou Ceesay Bah
Single motherhood is a journey that millions of women around the world embark on daily. In The Gambia, however, the challenges faced by single mothers are compounded by cultural and societal norms that place a heavy emphasis on marriage and family values.
For these women, being a single mother can be a lonely and stigmatizing experience, with few resources available to help them navigate the difficulties of raising a child alone.
Single mothers in The Gambia stated that they face numerous obstacles, including financial struggles, social stigma, and limited access to healthcare, education and legal challenges.
According to Acenda Integrated Health site, "single mothers faced a great deal of stigma and discrimination, many people see single motherhood as a failure of the woman to uphold her traditional role as a wife and mother. This stigma can lead to social exclusion, discrimination, and even violence."
Factors resulting from being a single mother include the death of a partner, divorce, abandonment, unplanned pregnancy and more.
In an interview with The Point newspaper, Fatoumatta Jammeh, a single mother and the founder of the Single Mothers Scheme, explained that single mothers in The Gambia are left to raise their children alone, saying that is very unfair. She added that encouraging greater involvement from fathers could provide emotional and financial support, and help reduce the burden on single mothers.
"Providing access to financial support from the father's side is important. Many single mothers in The Gambia struggle to make ends meet. The government and non-governmental organisations should also support them in the forms of grants, loans, or other forms of assistance that could help us become more financially stable," she said.
Fatou also recommended that raising awareness about the challenges faced by single mothers can help society to address the stigma and discrimination they face. Fatou reiterated that this could involve campaigns to promote greater understanding and acceptance of single motherhood.
For her part, Fatoumatta Leigh, a native of Old Yundum and a mother of three, laments that her children are now school dropouts, adding that access to education for themselves and their children is a problem due to financial constraints and lack of support from their families, and social attitudes towards them.
"I am currently renting with my children. Though I am engaging in petty trading but honestly I sometimes can't afford to buy a small bag of rice to sustain us. The business is not profitable and I didn't want to sit at home without doing anything. Men should be sympathetic to their ex-wives or baby mothers and take responsibility," she stated.
Amie Njie, quality assurance manager at the Bundung Maternal and Child Hospital, noted that many single mothers face the inability to meet the cost of health care for both themselves and their children, thus leading to physical, psychological, and mental ill health within the family.
Njie added that their younger children become prone to malnutrition and infections. In contrast, older children become extremely vulnerable to child abuse, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and many other risky behaviours that could jeopardise their health.
"Children of single mothers have a stake in the difficulties of life. In most cases, there is a loss of contact between children and their fathers because they take sides with their mothers. Therefore, the man does not contribute to the children's basic needs."
Fallou Sowe, the national coordinator of Network of Gender Based Violence, urged the government of The Gambia to come up with mechanisms and policies to help single mothers and their children to live a happy and dignified life.
Source: The Point