Nairobi, Kenya | By Michael Wandati | Africa is one of the harshest and most difficult places to live in — that is you get to live. Life, especially for men in most parts of the region is marked by an unending struggle to see through diseases, ethnic cleansing, conflict, poverty, forced labour, sexual harassment and other quandaries from birth, through childhood, adulthood and even death. In fact, the journey of a boy child, born in the African soil, starts from the day of conception.
So much research, statistics, writings, oratory and action has been dedicated to the girl child, but nothing substantive has been done for the embattled boy child.
Women empowerment has so far been a great achievement following the vigorous campaigns and guidelines initiated globally, with a solitary endeavour to safeguard, uplift and empower the rights and status of the girl child.
On the contrary, boy child has been forgotten. As a result, they have been rendered or rather subjected to all kinds of inhumane societal mischief, and unending life-struggle.
The male counterparts are left to fight on their own; they hustle and tussle to make it through without the equal opportunities, support, guidance and protection showered and instilled in favour of women.
The boy child in Africa has for many generations unwittingly benefited from a patriarchal society that has prized men over women and sons over daughters. He has always been given priority and dominion over his female counterpart.
There were times when giving birth to a baby boy, meant prosperity and masculinity, while having a girl child was a sign of weakness. But that was then, things have changed in a flash.
All focus and concentration has shifted in uplifting the livelihood and well-being of the female species. It is a sad reality but in terms of considerations, all this is done in the name of gender equity and balance.
It looks ridiculous but in reality, women in this era are gradually and steadily taking over the capabilities, privileges, roles and responsibilities that have been customarily considered to be male dominated.
While people are quick to rush to the rescue of a girl who is raped, they don’t show the same vigour and urgency to a boy who is sodomized, tortured, forced to take drugs or compelled to be a child soldier — in the cases of abductions and recruitment of young boys by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), M23 rebels, Boko Haram, Al-Qaida linked militia al-Shabaab and among others.
A girl child is always considered vulnerable. You can recall 230 secondary school Chibok girls who were kidnapped from their dorm rooms by the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria mid-April 2014, vigorous campaigns and awareness was initiated under “#BringBackOurGirls” hash-tag. Do we see such campaigns to reclaim back our boys, who have been abducted by these same groups to carry out terrorism activities, killing innocent people?
The heinous act of rape against girls makes me angry as well. Yet, over the years, similar stories though on a smaller scale, appear from time to time in the newspapers, and other media platforms about sodomized boys, and all society has done is look the other way, hoping the cases will just die a natural death. At best, the society have raised only faint whimpers and gone back to sleep as if nothing has happened.
The damage instilled on sodomized boys is just the same as that done to raped girls; it involves the destruction of the identity and worth of the child in his own eyes, in the eyes of the perpetrator — his oppressor — and in the eyes of his extended family and society.
Sodomy is as much an assault and violation of the victim as is female rape. Actually, the distinction is only a question of semantics. The feeling of desolation, devaluation, worthlessness and powerlessness that grip the victims cannot be put into words.
The number of organizations that advocate for female rights are overwhelming. Anything tagged the “girl-child,” is a gold mine for these ever mushrooming organizations.
The female species are being preached more for their market potential than anything else, which might explain why the boy child with his low commercial appeal has been sidelined.
As the issue of women empowerment gains prominence, the girl child is increasingly climbing the corporate ladder. The boy child on the other hand, is neglected and threatened species. The trend is worrying.
When women look at a man, they want to see security, ability to provide and responsibility. However, very little is being done to mold the boy child to grow up into this ‘ideal man’ that the society expects. Women argue that even when it comes to dating, men are reserved these days.
“They expect us (women) to take the lead. Why can’t they take their leadership position in the society? We want men who can be heads in our families,” says an established woman in Kampala, Uganda who earns three times much salary than what the husband earns.
In West Pokot County, Kenya for instance, boys’ education is sacrificed for the sake of livestock. The boy child is introduced to grazing cattle at a very tender age of five. He is also taught how to handle the gun to protect his community and livestock. This denies the child his right to education and a better future.
In our African setting, governments are alarmed by the rate at which young boys are opting to abandon school to work in coffee and tea plantations. Some prefer the streets to beg for money, or rummage in garbage heaps in the city suburbs to collect empty mineral water bottles to sell and earn some money.
Not to forget the gambling menace that have been considered to be an alternative full-time employment by these young boys. Chronic alcoholism is also wasting away the male youth especially in the ghettos in the watchful eyes of the community leaders and authorities.
In Central Kenya for instance, alcoholism is a big problem. Most of those who drink are youth aged 17-28 years. Some time back, women in this region held public demonstrations calling upon the Government to intervene and save their men from alcohol consumption.
They said the men were enslaved by the bottle and had neglected not only their responsibilities as bread winners and protectors of families but had denied their women their conjugal rights.
Young boys in Africa have also been subjected into conscripting to acts of ancient traditional rituals against their wills. For instance the painful traditional circumcision, and ancient practices of facial and body scarification.
The Bagisu culture for instance (from the western slops of Mountain Elgon, Uganda), together with the Sebeyi neighbours, are the only major Ugandan practicing circumcision also known as Imbalu.
Before circumcision, the young boys must stand outside in the cold weather, and receive a cold shower to cleanse them. In Africa, it is believed that circumcision initiation elevates an individual from childhood to adulthood.
People would tell the boy, “if you kick the knife, we shall kill you, if you run away from the knife, your society will disown you.” The boy must exhibit signs of a grown man, by carrying a heavy spear, herding a large heard of livestock, or kill a deadly wild animal like a lion and so on.
The girl child on the other hand is luckier. She is spared of such comments and trials to exhibit signs of a grown woman. Try initiating the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to any of the young girls in the name of traditional right of passage and you will end up in prison. I am left to wonder, do we have selective gender laws that only work on the boy child and spares the girl child?
I have also personally witnessed scenes of a male toddler with blood coursing down the side of his scalp and cheeks while he apparently whimpered at the sight of the ominously looking blood stained apparatus, all which made me grimace with anticipated pain. These traumatizing images will forever remain etched in my memory.
No pain relief drugs as anesthesia, and you cannot flinch your eye when circumcision or body scarification is being carried out. The society consider it as a sign of cowardice and immaturity. Circumcision and body scarification imposed to the boy child are both painful, yet means a lot to many traditions in Africa that practice them.
Recent statistics by education scholars regionally, show that women are crowding up men in popular scholarly classes with the exchange of sex to earn grades or marks from the male lecturers. This has also reflected in the job recruitment and employment opportunities available.
Gender equity notions are erroneous and deceptive. If we de-construct this “truth” from a philosophical point of view, we find that more boys end up in crime than girls; there are more boys in the streets than girls; more boys end up in prison than girls; and research shows that more men die faster than women.
Once a boy child is branded and labelled by society, he keeps the tag into adulthood. Society neither forgives nor forgets the transgressions of a boy child easily.
The abuse of a boy child — whether physical, verbal, psychological or sexual — is always swept under the carpet. But if a girl child is concerned, all hell breaks loose.
My line of work has exposed me to heart-rending cases of abuse of the boy child. In all the cases, the victims become bundles of anger, lies and delinquency.
Why should the boy child of today suffer just because historically the girl child was marginalized? Aren’t we also creating disparities that would need future rectification in the process?
Both boys and girls need to be educated and mentored. We will be going wrong as a region if we give much attention to the girl child and forget that tomorrow will come when we will need the boys to become men.
There is need for more men to come out as mentors for the boy child, to guide and teach them what is expected of them as they grow up into men. After all we need each other for a healthy nation.