Feeling boys are neglected? Do something about it

Saturday December 23 2017

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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And so we are back to the final blog of the year – so quickly, too. It seemed like just the other day when we were looking forward, naively, to straightforward elections and a change for Kenya – actual change, as opposed to more debt, in whatever shape or form that would come in.

Instead, we have been exposed to rather tumultuous economic times, drawn out by sham elections, deaths of innocents, a lack of justice and no real change for the common mwananchi – in other words, the same old thing we get, regardless of who is in power.

KCSE EXAM

Speaking of the same old thing we get, KCSE results just came out and there were a few surprises there, though in this reign of Matiang'i, not too many. For one, schools like Kenya High and Alliance Girls still topped the leader board; the number of A's improved by exactly one; and many children are, once again, not going to university.

As it is the Christmas season, unfortunately for many of these children, this will be a time fraught with anxiety. Why? Because they will come in contact with the usual family members, or even just neighbours or church mates, who will curiously inquire what they got in their exams. Because we so religiously glorify number one in cramming, these kids might have the worst holiday season yet.

As is Kenyan custom, I was heading upcountry when the results came out on the radio, ad infinitum, it would seem. The speech from the minister and its excerpts were played on top of the hour, every hour. I was the only female in a car full of men. My cousin was driving. After listening to the results, he turned to me and said, "Abigail, don't take this the wrong way, but I think these results are as a result of too much focus being on the girl child at the expense of the boy child". He saw the look on my face and quickly laughed, but of course this launched into a heated discussion about why men feel like the boy child is being neglected.

I tried to come at it from an unbiased view but obviously I am already biased, as were the men in the car. How is it that the top student in both KCPE and KCSE is a girl? Why weren't the boys passing as much? What happened to Alliance High? How are boys supposed to survive and thrive with all these...women?

BOY CHILD

Arguments like these always go back to a certain deliberately ignorant keyboard pseudo-warrior, who claims his most recent main goal is to amplify the plight of the boy child. His dedicated followers claim that though his packaging is rougher than sandpaper, his message is spot on. However, I would like to categorically state that no right message validates the words he uses to harass women on the internet. None whatsoever. If efficacy of a message is almost solely based on its delivery, then he has lost the battle already.

This is how I understand the 'plight of the boy child'. In a world where women are the most vulnerable, women need the most help. Simply put, this system we live in now, where women are going to school and earning more, coming into their own and not having to live the lives prescribed to them by a patriarchal society, is a very new system, as recent as this century. Women have been and continue to be – yes, present tense – downtrodden across every society you can name, except for the ultra-modern ones. This is a fact.

Another fact – because women saw that the odds were not in their favour, they began to specifically target women to help them out. We started chamas. We shared information. We fought to be educated like our brothers. We adapted to our surroundings and rose above them. We are so good at it now, because we have been doing it, for so long.

That we are here now – that girls can top the country, never mind that more boys are getting into university than girls – is a feat in and of itself that has been in the making for literal centuries. We live in a country where over-the-counter contraception was illegal a little over a decade ago. A country where men in Parliament still feel like it is acceptable to tell women what they can and cannot wear to the assembly. A country where male leaders say women should be raped for running for office.

ADAPT

Another fact: the reason men feel like the boy child is in danger is that, as the dominant group, men have never had to adapt to a system that doesn't favour them. The system has always favoured them. Boys are picked to go to school, traditionally. Women don't get land from their fathers because they are going to belong to another man, anyway – heaven forbid that the woman never gets married. Women are the ones who change their names when they get married. Women are traditionally the caregivers who, sometimes by choice but sometimes from pressure, give up their own careers to take care of the children at home.

But now that women have agency – I know, mind-boggling – women don't have to do this anymore. And that concept, that traditional values are rapidly changing, is what leads to this whole debate. Fact number four: The girl child is not prospering at the expense of the boy child! There is space for everyone. Stop the crab-in-a-pot mentality, we're not clamouring for limited space.

Men need to do what women have been doing for years. Adapt. If you feel like the boy child is being neglected, start your own programme that redefines the role of the man in this society, today, as women have redefined their own roles. Start listening to the men around you, and what they say about the issue. Encourage the conversation about why people feel like this is an imminent threat.

If you feel like the boy child is not getting into schools and doing as well as the girl child, do something about it. Start bursaries. Give talks. Ask your mothers what they did. That is, if you truly believe that there is a plight to be addressed and attended to. There you go, a New Year's resolution you can get behind instead of blaming this on a battle of the sexes. Happy Holidays.

Twitter: @AbigailArunga