This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia
It's still taboo in much of the Arab world for women to openly admit that they don't want to have children. But in recent years, more and more young women are actively pushing back against the accepted wisdom that says their main purpose in life is to become a mother.
I spoke with ten Arab women and asked them to describe why they've decided not to have kids. The responses ranged from fears about not being able to keep them safe in an often politically unstable region, to simply not wanting to give in to what society and their families demand.
"It's almost selfish to bring a child into this reality."
"I don't want to be a mother because Yemen – and Arab countries in general – cannot guarantee basic human rights for all children, such as quality education and a decent home. It's almost selfish to want to bring a child into this reality. And as our population continues to grow at an incredibly fast rate, our essential resources are only decreasing. So if things continue at this pace, we could see the day when we simply do not have enough food in the world to feed everyone."
- Marwa, 26, Architect
"I don't think I'd be able to face my son or daughter the day they decided to ask me why I decided to bring them into this world"
"Why would I want to raise a child in Egypt, amid all this injustice and indecency – eating unhealthy food, drinking poorly treated water and inhaling all this polluted air? And no matter how well educated and skilful the child might become, they will never achieve their dreams because they won't be the child of someone who is rich and powerful.
Another problem is that even if my child grew up to be a decent person, they could easily end up being imprisoned on false charges by an angry, inhumane tyrant. If that happened, I really don't think I'd be able to face my son or daughter the day they decided to ask me why I decided to bring them into this world, because they certainly didn't ask for this life."
– Israa, 27, Businesswoman
"I don't want to have children because I won't have the answers to 70 percent of the fundamental life questions they'll ask me."
"Sure, the idea of having children is appealing – a little person created from your genes and the genes of the person you love most. But I don't want to have children, because I won't have the answers to 70 percent of the fundamental life questions they'll ask me. What do I tell them when they want to understand issues of faith and philosophy, for example? When they put their trust in me to know the right answers, should I admit that I don't have a clue or should I share what I think I know, which could be completely wrong?
"I would love to experience what it's like to have a family – to leave a footprint in this world alongside a partner who is cultured, beautiful and knowledgeable. But I just don't think I can take full responsibility for another life. And I'm sure they won't be fully satisfied anyway with the environment I do provide them.
"Of course my heart melts when I see my nephews and nieces, but I know raising a kid is not that simple, and I don't want to selfishly trial it out just to test my skills as a mother or as a basic human being."
- Nada, 22, Writer
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"I won't be able to afford to send my children to a decent school"
"I want to carry on working, and juggling that with being a mother would be incredibly difficult. Also, I know that I won't be able to afford to send my children to a decent school. And even if I could, it would mean that I was working day and night to pay for it, leaving no time to actually look after them as a parent should."
- Mai, 27, Journalist
"The world is too harmful and destructive a place"
"So much pressure is placed on women because the accepted wisdom is that motherhood is a natural instinct inside all of us. But there's no scientific proof to backup that claim. I think more women choose to become parents because they feel pressure from their family and society to conform. Personally, I see having children as being selfish and inhumane – the world is too harmful and destructive a place to raise a child."
- Nour, 19, Student
"I'm not prepared to take care of someone else"
"I don't want to have children because I'm not prepared to take care of someone else and I have no real interest in children in general. For example, I don't want to have to choose between buying myself a dress or getting diapers for a baby."
- Jihad, 32, Producer
"Even if the entire world depended on just me to reproduce, I still wouldn't have a child"
"I just don't feel that urge to be a mother. Everyone says I will regret it and that motherhood is a natural instinct inside all women. They push this romantic notion that women are the bedrock of all humanity and it's our responsibility to raise children in order to make the world a better place. And then there are those who look at it from a purely biological perspective – insisting that I have children because that's my basic function as a human. But I don't share any of those views. Even if the entire world depended on just me to reproduce, I still wouldn't have a child because I simply don't feel like it."
- Lama, 33, Accountant
"The world is a cruel place that's full of horror and pain"
"I don't want to have kids because the world is a cruel place full of horror and pain – wars, hunger, poverty, disease, crime. It all makes me question if this really is an environment that I would want to raise a child in. Forcing a human to exist in this world is almost cruel. If you really love your kids, then don't bring them into this. And if your natural instincts become too overwhelming then you should really consider adoption."
- Nesreen, 23, English teacher
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"I'm afraid something will happen to them and I'll lose them"
"I'm scared of having children because I'm afraid something will happen to them and I'll lose them. I lived in Syria through much of the war, and even though I didn't lose anyone close to me, I cannot imagine the pain that other families felt after losing a child. I personally could not bear feeling that much loss. So to make it easier on myself, I've decided not to have children in the first place."
– Dana, 26, Teacher
"I don't believe that my genes are so extraordinary that I have a duty to pass them on"
"I think we should all be focusing on the children that already exist and the inhumane conditions many of them are living in. I don't believe that my genes are so extraordinary that I have a duty to pass them on to another generation, and I don't possess the kind of specialist skills that humanity depends on to survive. Finally, I'm just not careless enough to simply hope for the best and ignore the fact that I, like most people, lack the necessary abilities to raise a healthy child."
– Janna, 30, Dentist