Monthly Archives: November 2014

Saving Grace: Eggs fresh or frozen, ma’am?

The news that tech giants Facebook and Apple have offered to cover the costs of egg- freezing for female employees has revived a conversation South Africa is yet to have.

The offer is touted as a solution to attract and retain more women in the tech and corporate fields.

Facebook said it will also help men who want to become parents. Staff will receive help with adopting, and a ”host of other fertility services”. Apple will pay for egg- freezing from January.

Some have called the new development ”a game-changer”, others a ”perk”. But for many, it’s a conversation they would rather not have.

CaptureThe news has reignited a topic that some of the world’s most powerful women, including The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, Pepisco CEO Indra Nooyi, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have been debating for years – whether women can ”have it all”.

The Times approached Nicky Newton-King, CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, who declined to be involved in the discussion. So did Primedia Broadcasting CEO, Terry Volkwyn, and Media 24 CEO Esmaré Weideman, when asked.

Nooyi was candid. She said women can’t have it all, and admitted she’s had to ”co-opt a lot of people” to help her out.

And on motherhood: ”My observation is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you for the teenage years.


“And that’s the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you. What do you do? And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re ageing. So we’re screwed.”

In her book, Lean In, Sandberg advised women not to slow down their careers before deciding to start a family.

Views differ. Some women criticise those in lofty positions for dishing out advice about working and child-rearing when they can afford to outsource help, but it is a discourse the rest of the world is having.

Is it still taboo and “unfeminist” to want to freeze your eggs so you can follow your career ambitions? Or is speaking out about the pressures of being a career mom, and admitting you can’t cope, a side no powerful woman wants to show?

South African women are still pretty silent on the issue.


Dr Srila Roy, a senior lecturer in sociology at Wits University, said Apple and Facebook were sending out the wrong message – even if there are women who welcomed the move.

“It doesn’t change the perception that children are a hindrance to women’s careers – these companies are simply saying, ‘delay having children’ rather than ‘have children whenever you wish and we will support you’.”

She said it is ”bizarre” that this is touted as ”pro-women”.

“I get why some people would celebrate this, because [for at least one reason] fertility is expensive, but I think the message that corporates are sending is that individual life courses must be tailored to corporate demands and not the other way round.”

Roy said this is “just an individualised, technological piecemeal response, while what’s needed is structural changes that enable women to meet the demands of family and work life”.

Countries including Norway, Sweden and Iceland, practise the shared parental leave policy, which means women return to work and men become more involved in looking after new babies. This makes men equal partners in parenting. But in South Africa, Section 27 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act only provides for three days of family responsibility leave for employees, and no paternity leave.


Meanwhile, Sulaiman Heylen, a specialist in reproductive medicine from the Cape Fertility Clinic, said the clinic ”do egg freezing very often, and we have more and more requests”.

Most of the requests, he said, came from women in their late 30s or early 40s.

“It should be done before a woman turns 35. After that age there’s a significant and steep decrease of egg quality,” he said.

“There is [also] no guarantee that the frozen egg will lead to pregnancy. It is not covered by medical aid and therefore out of reach for most young women.”


Andile Ndlovu | 19 October

Times Live