Society should mind welfare of girls, but it can’t ignore its boys

Tuesday March 15 2016

Emily Mwinzi, 13, from Muthetheni Primary School entertains guests on March 9, 2016 during the International Women's Day celebrations at Muthetheni Chief's Camp in Mwala, Machakos County. PHOTO | SAMMY KIMATU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Emily Mwinzi, 13, from Muthetheni Primary School entertains guests on March 9, 2016 during the International Women's Day celebrations at Muthetheni Chief's Camp in Mwala, Machakos County. PHOTO | SAMMY KIMATU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By DOROTHY KWEYU
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Trust readers to put writers on the spot even when the latter think they have put forward a watertight case. I found myself in a tight corner as soon as a friend read my offering on rape to commemorate last week’s International Women’s Day.

Her beef was the negative portrayal of men in the rape of Tamar saga (2 Samuel 13:1-22) arising from a recent consultation of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Truth be told, I deliberately gave the boy child a blackout since opinion on the situation of the boy child is divided, with some human rights activists holding the view that the boy child debate is diversionary.

Indeed, predictions that achieving gender parity could be 120 years away only serve to bolster cynicism over the boy child hoopla.

To be fair to the 45 participants at the inter-generational consultation of WCC’s Ecumenical HIV and Aids Initiatives and Advocacy in Limuru, a lone voice did speak up for the boy child.

Defending biblical Amnon, who raped his half-sister, Tamar, Reverend Richard Rukundo of the Anglican Church in Uganda asked participants from 12 African countries: “Wasn’t there anything good about this boy?”

The clergyman then raised questions, which, in retrospect, speak to the adolescent crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. There was the issue of the “adolescent, who is growing up in a vacuum, without role-modelling; father and brothers are always on WhatsApp,” the cleric said.

He noted that most boys were growing up without fathers. Like David’s sons, whose father was permanently engaged in military campaigns, the boy child has lost the much-needed touch with the father.

The situation of the African boy child is very similar to Amnon’s, who “never got an opportunity to discuss with the absent father what men talk with men”, said the Reverend Rukundo.

NEGLECTED BOY CHILD

It emerged in Limuru that, in South Africa, for instance, 505 per cent more girls than boys get infected with HIV. A male editor I shared the statistic with quipped: “It only means that a few boys on the rampage are infecting a host of their female peers with Aids.”

And yet, it was not until I read the booklet, The Status of the Boy Child in Kenya, that the Reverend Rukundo’s worry about the neglected boy child hit me.

Based on a survey in eight counties, namely, Kilifi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Kericho, Garissa, Kisumu, Kakamega, and Embu, the study has sobering facts. “Majority (92 per cent) of the respondents agreed that the boy child is lagging in the gender equality agenda whereas 8 per cent disagreed,” the study states.

In the foreword, National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) chairperson Winnie Lichuma singles out family and home-related issues, socialisation, culture, and traditions as factors in the exclusion of boys in the gender debate.

Fathers’ absence, which the Rev Rukundo blamed for Amnon’s poor socialisation, leading him to rape his half-sister, is equally treated seriously in the NGEC study.

The study refers to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which identifies parents and family as providing the best environment for children to grow. It is noted that, “where the father is often absent from home or is alcoholic, boys lack role models and parental guidance and this affects their development and even behaviour.”

The survey addresses the misperception that boys need not be monitored. Girls in the study noted that, “mothers are more concerned about the girls’ whereabouts, especially in the evenings, than they are about the boys.”

In a parental vacuum, drug and alcohol abuse becomes rampant. Peer pressure holds sway, leading to impaired thinking. Rampant cases of violence against girls and women, including rape, are signs of mentally ill boys.

The study concludes that, “over-focus on the girl child through selective programmes and interventions [is] pushing the boy to lose confidence and develop low self-esteem,” hence, society ignores boys’ socialisation at its own peril.

Ms Kweyu is a freelance journalist and consulting editor. [email protected]