Where women chose to be single moms
They had no plan to break barriers or cause trouble. But 30 years ago in Loi, a village in northern Vietnam, one group of women decided to take motherhood in their own hand. They asked men- whom they would never interact with afterwards to help them conceive a child One recent morning in Loi, as farmers in conical straw hats waded quietly through rice paddies, a small group of women played with their grandchildren near a stream. Their husbands were nowhere to be found, not because they perished in the war, but because the women decided to have children without husbands.The women's story began during the American War, as it is called here, when many put the revolution before their families. As peace settled more than a decade later, it became clear that they � like so many of their generation � had sacrificed their marriageable years to the war. At that time Vietnamese women traditionally married around 16, and those still single at 20 would often be considered "qua lua," or "past the marriageable age." When single men who survived the war returned home, they often preferred younger brides, exacerbating the effects of a sex ratio already skewed by male mortality in the war. According to the Vietnam Population and Housing Census of 2009, after reunification in 1979 there were on average only about 88 men for every 100 women between 20 and 44. Unlike previous generations of unwanted Vietnamese women who dutifully accepted the "so," or "destiny," of living a solitary life, a group of women in Loi decided to take motherhood into their own hands. They had endured the war, developed a new strength and were determined not to die alone.One by one they asked men � whom they would never interact with afterward � to help them conceive a child. The practice became known as "xin con," or "asking for a child," and it meant breaking tradition, facing discrimination and enduring the hardships of raising a child alone. One of the first women in Loi to ask for a child was Nguyen Thi Nhan, now 58. Nhan had led a platoon of women during the war, and though she never saw battle, was awarded a medal for her exemplary leadership. Her husband, with whom she had a daughter, abandoned her after the war. Nhan moved to the cheapest land she could find, a field near the stream on the outskirts of Loi, where a few refugees from bombing nearby still lived. She then asked for a second child with an unidentified man, ending up with the son she wished for. Her first several years were hard. Despite her best efforts, food and money were scarce. The villagers eventually set aside prejudices and accepted her choice, offering to share the little food they could spare. Eventually, Nhan was joined by 16 other women. "It was comforting to be in a group with other women in a similar situation," she said. Outside of Loi, many women across Vietnam had made the same decision. The growing number of single mothers, especially those who had fought for the revolution, at length caught the attention of the Women's Union, the government agency that oversees programs for women. Although the plight of the war generation single mothers was only one factor, in 1986 the government passed the Marriage and Family Law, which for the first time recognised single mothers and their children as legally legitimate. It was a victory for the mothers in Loi, and for others like them. Every woman has the right to be a wife and a mother, and if she cannot find a husband, she should still have the right to her own child. In Loi only four of the 17 women who founded the community are left. Three have died, some have gone to live with their children in other villages and others married men who were widowers later in their lives.Those who remain have upgraded their huts to real homes, with small gardens. Their children, now grown, send a portion of their small salaries to support their mothers. None of the women see themselves as pioneers, nor do they dwell on the impact of the choices they made. "I don't know if I ever served as inspiration," said one, who did not want to be identified to preserve her privacy and that of her son. "I just worked on my own decisions. I just wanted to be a mother. No one could change my mind."
29 Jan 2020 5:46 AM GMT