HomeOpinion & AnalysisTime to reflect on the boy child, commemorating World Day of Boy...

Time to reflect on the boy child, commemorating World Day of Boy Child

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BY Chaka Ruzvidzo
IN a world where focus has been on the vulnerability of the girl child and a plethora of the focus has been accorded to the feminine gender, boys are left at the mercy of support, care and attention that has been ticking like a time bomb as boys’ vulnerability is rearing an ugly head as seen on the status quo — boys being the huge number succumbing to drug and substance abuse. As such one, Jerome Teelucksingh (a prolific author, gender issues thought leader and founder of the November 19 International Men’s Day movement since 1999) proposed the commemoration of World Day of the Boy Child or International Boys Day on May 16 each year.

Teelucksingh, at the inaugural  International Boys Day movement on May 16 2018 said: “There is little room for debate when I write. We need to save the boy child. We need to protect the boy child from the harmful influences of society. There is an urgent need to focus on the home and school in order to save the boy child. The boy child lives in a turbulent social environment that makes him vulnerable to a multitude of negative forces. If a boy child is neglected or fed a diet of hate and violence it is obvious he will develop into a teenager who is misguided and confused. And the crucial transition into manhood will be even more difficult.”

“Protecting the girl child is equally important. Some of us would be aware that since 2012, the United Nations marks 11 October as the “International Day of the Girl Child,” the obvious question is — why have we not dedicated a day that focuses on the boy child? We must not allow the continued imbalance of the gender scale. We cannot ignore that without a focus on both the boy child and the girl child, gender equality is not a reality.”

Hence, International Boys Day is meant to advocate for a paradigm shift to such a notion as both genders are equally important as noted by Warwick Marsh, founder of the Fatherhood Foundation and co-operating partner with Teelucksingh to promote International Boys Day, that: “Worldwide, boys are 50% less likely than girls to meet basic proficiency standards in reading, maths and science.” He cited that the simple goal of International Boys Day is to help every boy to become a man of honour and integrity so that he might be able to contribute in a vital way to his family, community, his nation, and the world.

Sadly, the United Nations and its organs have not up to this day officially recognised either the International Boys Day or International Men’s Day thus creating a vacuum for gender equality that needs remedy as mentioned by Helena Adutwumwaa a boy child advocate and founder of  Concern for the Boy Child Initiative Ghana who is also the author of a book Dear Boy Child who noted, Empowering girls and neglecting boys is like pouring water into a basket.

Against such a background, current research worldwide shows that boys:

  • Are worldwide 50% more likely to fail meeting basic proficiency standards in reading than girls.
  • Are 100% more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD — which is a chronic condition consisting of attention difficulty, hyperactivity and impulsiveness) compared to girls.
  • Are more likely to be the victims of violent crime.
  • Are severely behind girls in school grades. Boys take 70% of D’s and failed grades.
  • Have a suicide rate four times higher than girls.
  • Are five times more likely to end up in juvenile detention.

While globally there is an inclination to amplify the dilemma  that  girls and young women are often trapped in, the predicament that young boys are subjected to should neither be forgotten nor ignored.  It is a fact that life for children who experience the cycle of abject poverty is just as tragic for boys as it is for girls. Unfortunately, young boys oftentimes have little or largely no  proper role models and the guidance that they require to grow up as men of integrity and purpose.

For over 25 years post the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, civil society organisations (CSOs) as well as governments and the donor world have been prioritising the girl child at the expense of the boy child when drafting intervention strategies. Without trivialising such efforts that have brought tremendous improvement to girls’ and women’s lives, most intervention strategies tend to exclude the boy child and place much focus on the girl child which is tantamount to creating a half-baked future generation.

This yawning gender equality gap follows an increase in cases of young boys who are experiencing abuse from older women, or their peers. Of late boys have faced forms of abuse that include sexual, physical, emotional, neglect, ritual killings, etc, and this has increased male vulnerability. The same is also said for grown men, who also face personal pressures, spousal or peer abuse that has had detrimental effects or given rise to negative behaviour such as drug and substance abuse, vengeful violent behaviour, reckless sexual acts, or even suicides.

Hence, it is a sad fact that the rate of suicide for men is higher than that for women, in some cases as high as six men for every woman and life expectancy is routinely less for men than women in all countries. Though it is understandable given the background and context of how the girl child used to be and is still disadvantaged, there is a need not to become extremely biased, as we tend to create another problem of boy child disempowerment consequently gender bias.

Zimbabwe has generally a female population occupying 52% of the total population (ZimStat, 2012). As such zooming into the status quo, in Zimbabwe just like in any typical society, perpetrators of the major forms of abuse are men and boys. Such stereotypes have lasted since time immemorial and generally resulted in the gender agenda providing holistic information, support services, and initiatives where the girl child and women were prioritised. Though such a move was and is still crucial, it, however, led to the disempowerment of boys and men — equating such to the remedying of symptoms without addressing the root causes. Resultantly, while we require a gender-just society, a gender-biased or discriminatory approach creates a time bomb if males continue to be on the terraces and not being active participants thereby creating another problem of boy child disempowerment and consequently gender bias.

According to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (2020), sexual exploitation of boys is a grave human rights violation that is all too often unrecognised or unseen. To add onto that, most research regarding the sexual exploitation of children has neglected the experiences of boys and youth who are outside the gender binary. Given this gap, strengthening programmes is a core requirement as it is vital to improving policy, service delivery, and prevention efforts. At the same time, the sensitivity of the subject matter necessitates heightened vigilance such as that accorded to females who also face such abuse.  As a consequence, such a background has detrimental effects or give rise to negative behaviour such as drug and substance abuse, vengeful violent behaviour, reckless sexual acts, or even suicide.

Men 4 Equality — an organisation that works with boys and men to augment the gains of gender mainstreaming, believes that these statistics are a drop in the ocean, and more work needs to be done that guarantees men and boys their dignity which is often at stake when they report where they are laughed at or are not entertained. While the girl child has been vulnerable over the years, the boy child has been totally secluded such that he has become equally vulnerable, if not more. As previously stated, affirmative action is slowly neglecting the boy child thereby creating reverse discrimination and undermining the purpose of achieving gender equality. If that is allowed to continue, society will empower the girl children who will excel against all odds as future women but simultaneously increase their vulnerability as boys who will become future men would have not been accorded the same pathways.  Thus, we need an all-inclusive approach to which we will emhasise through the commemoration of the International Day of the Boy Child and make it a priority on the agendas and action at the United Nations, government, donor community, corporate sector and the civil society at large to have an impact on our communities to value and protect our children equally.

  • Chaka Ruzvidzo is a Producer/Presenter of Bro Code aired simultaneously every Monday from 1400hrs to 1500hrs CAT on Heart and Soul Broadcasting Services Facebook page and NewsDay Zimbabwe Facebook page. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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