“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” – Frederick Douglas
Remember, you can’t give what you don’t have. A society can only develop when it takes advantage of its diverse genders, religions, ethnicities, and cultures. While the measures to address the plight of the disadvantaged in society is laudable, a crisis occurring in the world is putting a spotlight on the real interpretation of gender equality and measures to ensure it is realized in the universe. Without dismissing the plight of young women, it is important to pursue equal rights for both sexes. The challenges that the boy child faces in today’s world does not receive as much attention and focus as is necessary to resolve their plight.
Of the 7.6 billion people who share Planet Earth, 3,874,259,756 are males and 1,004,638,305 of them are under the age of 15. Boys are more than mere extensions of ourselves. They represent our heritage and serve as one of the links to the past and the present that intersects with the future of our families, our communities, and our world.
The 1,004,638,305 who are males under the age of 15 – boys – emerged from the womb with irrepressible enthusiasm, insatiable curiosity, a natural and spontaneous reaction to disappointment, rejection, failure, and spiritual, physical, psychological, and emotional pain, and a pristine view of the world. They are fragile and vulnerable. Somewhere along the journey from boyhood to manhood, boys are seen not to express the natural and spontaneous reactions to spiritual, physical, emotional, and psychological pain, disappointment, and rejection. They are often required to equate strength and masculinity with suppressing their natural and spontaneous reaction to pain, disappointment, and rejection; not asking for help; and shunning vulnerability. Actuality, vulnerability is about strength , it is about standing in front of another soul spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally naked. Many of these 1,004,638,305 boys are suicidal, slowly descending into the deep dark abyss of depression, and consumed by low self-esteem and repressed emotions.
some notions on gender continue to emphasise girls and women as the dominant vulnerable group in society, but this has masked how we understand gender-based vulnerabilities amongst boys. This is because society already prescribes explicit socio-cultural norms of what it means to be male – bold, assertive, dominant, reserved, emotionless without showing any form of vulnerability. While the relative prominence of this characteristic is context-specific, in the event of contrary behaviour, society dictates the sanctions.
Consider this: the boy-child is seen as an infant developing into a young boy who would eventually grow into an adult man and (perhaps) have his own family. He automatically becomes an important part of the (human) growth process and the education/socialization around how boys and men need to behave in society. The social upbringing of the boy-child places him in a disadvantaged position where he often can’t reveal or show his emotions, is forever under pressure to outshine (be stronger than) his female peers and the most common challenge. He is ignored into being strong, even when circumstances might be better off seeking support. The boy child is also a victim of gender oppression as the existing socio-cultural norms deny him the freedom to think and act as an individual being. We are made to believe that being a man is easier than being a woman because boys are a superior social group to the girls.
Are boys vulnerable?
There is an increasing awareness of the need to support boys and young men if there will be meaningful changes in gender equality (SDG 5), and there has been a flurry of research and interventions on this issue in the past decade. The evidence suggests that boys have a deeper yearning to belong and forge relationships than it appears, and their vulnerability is rooted in explicit socio-cultural norms of what it means to be male. Consequently, they are socialised to ignore their emotions and only express characteristics such as boldness, assertiveness, dominance and to be introverted. This socialisation is further reinforced by their parents at home, teachers at school, peers on the playground, during sports activities as well as mass and social media. Given these notions of masculinity, boys have little or no opportunity to freely express themselves when they are hurting and in pain.
Boys experience vulnerability in a number of ways including verbal abuse, molestation, and other forms of physical abuse. For example, in a study group discussion by leap Africa , some of the boys described how they are being verbally and physically abused by their fathers and how they also had to endure being bullied at school. While this represents the experiences of many boys, they are expected to bottle all of these up or immediately let it go. In reality, the trauma and wounds remain in their subconscious mind with the potential of leading to depression, loneliness, and violence.
How do boys react to vulnerability?
As a result of what they have or are passing through, their learning process is affected leading to frustration, hostility, cultism, timidity, violent formations, introverted and with extremely damaged self-esteem where they engage in unhealthy and illegal activities including drugs, alcoholism, rape and girl trafficking. Because of the shame of failure and neglect, they either shrink by isolating themselves and going into loneliness or they become aggressive.
Factors leading to exclusion of the boy child. 1. Family related issues 2. Drug/substance abuse 3. Peer pressure 4. Early marriages 5. Cultural belief’s and practices 6. Changes in societal norms and values 7. Poverty
Who will save the boy-child?
Interventions to help develop young boys can’t be overemphasised, as their growth and emotional stability is crucial to their well-being and for their loved ones. In order to reduce violence, especially intimate partner violence among teenagers and young adults let us therefore rewrite the narrative on strength and masculinity by equating strength with vulnerability.
Of late, there has been a lot of empowerment in support of the girl-child; the boy is now at the periphery of the development sphere. In an effort to free the girl-child from the shackles of poverty and backwardness, for years, there has been a sustained campaign which ewards are now paying off. The girl child is now free, confident, independent pursuing her dreams and is no longer the weaker sex. However, the downside of this is that; the boy child is now the weaker sex and endangered species. Statistics show that the enrolment of the boy-child in school has gone down significantly while the drop-out rates have risen. What is happening to the boy child is real and needs to be addressed fast before things get out of hand.
The perception that the boy child is being excluded in the gender equality agenda is valid while the patriarchal society places a high premium on the boy child, over-focus on the girl child through selective programmes and interventions is pushing the boy to lose confidence and develop low self-esteem. The impact of the boy child being excluded in the gender equality agenda is likely to manifest itself in increased conflicts with law, an illiterate population, increase in crime and low self-esteem leading to violence, truancy, drug and substance abuse. The net effect will be that development of the country will be impaired by having a large number of dependents, low skills development and little entrepreneurship. Socially, there will be failed marriages, dysfunctional families and high incidences of Gender
Based Violence (GBV).
A dysfunctional boy in the society will grow into an unsecured and toxic boyfriend, colleague and husband. He will breed timid girls that will hardly dream big and even when they do, they await a man’s validation for such dream to be worth pursuing.
A culture that has become unprofitable must be discarded. We must begin to make our male folks know there is no strength in being vulnerable to pains and troubles; that it is dysfunctional to deny their reality. In fact, it is the reason they turn the aggression on their scapegoats (girl child) eventually.
To a statement normally made that when you educate a girl you educate an entire society to imply that the same is not true of educating the boy child. As a people, we must recognise that ensuring gender equality requires that policies and administrative actions deal with challenges facing both sexes. To ignore one category of gender is not exacerbating the gender divide as opposed to promoting equity. It is imperative that the complaints those young boys raise though sometimes from a comical perspective, be taken more seriously and targeted measures be designed to address the numerous challenges that young boys face as they grow up. Young boys need positive role models. Parents, teachers, siblings should play a better role .
Without dismissing the plight of young women, it is important to pursue equal rights for women through programmes like ‘Take a Girl Child to school. I have seen little or non intervention programes for the boy child. A neglected boy child ‘made invisible’ grows up to be a bigger danger to society than girls, and so needs to be taken care of and made conscious of the patriarchy and how better to channel aggression and anger.
The prevailing notions that suggest boys be less vulnerable and frame them as producers of violence and abuse blinds us from also seeing them be survivors and victims of multiple forms of abuse as well. This narrow construction denies them the attention and support relevant for their leadership development and only perpetuates the cycle of violence with implications for the girl folk. In reacting to vulnerability, boys shrink by withdrawing into solitude or become hostile by forming or joining violent formations to belong and boost their self-esteem.
Doing this should not mean ignoring girls. Unfortunately, discussions amongst gender activists sometimes pose the question as if it is only possible to lift one category by bringing down the next category. To do so we must recognise that boys are suffering just like girls. The challenges may be different, but the challenges exist. Consequently, we must start discussing and identifying measures to address their plight and put resources and efforts to deal with these challenges.
We need to provide a safe space where both girls and boys will have the opportunity to appreciate and reflect on their self-worth and inner strength; coming to realise and identify the attitudes that help them become complete and healthy human beings. These attitudes help in transforming them into positive change agents who are able to leap above structural social conditions rather than just coping with existing limitations.