Mind the boy-child, even as we promote the rights of the girl-child

Last Saturday, my friend held 'a mbuzi' (Kenyan euphemism for a party involving slaughtering a goat) to celebrate his twin daughters' first birthday. It so happened the date, October 11, was the International Day of the Girl Child.

Last Saturday, my friend held ‘a mbuzi’ (Kenyan euphemism for a party involving slaughtering a goat) to celebrate his twin daughters’ first birthday. It so happened the date, October 11, was the International Day of the Girl Child.

When the subject of coincidence of the party and the International Day came up (it was due busy Kigali schedules and a convenient weekend), I remembered when I introduced my son to him one Sunday morning, just after the twins were born.

My friend, who is given to a genteel sense of humour, had cooed at the responsive young lad who was then a strapping toddler just shy of his second birthday.

After deciding that the boy would grow up to be a dashing young man, he turned to me and said: “Let that young chap be warned: I am buying a German Shepherd. My girls will need protection.”

My friend was, of course, making a joke of it, of which my boy was a prop in the joke inadvertently symbolising the prevalent paternal socio-cultural attitudes that are not only predatory, but have overseen gender inequalities that continue to subjugate women and girls.

I will admit that I chuckled, perhaps too smugly, at the joke. Yet I am fairly confident that both our children will meet most, if not all of their needs actively being brought up in a sheltered environment and nurtured to grow up with mutual respect for one another as equals.

But it is not guaranteed for many a girl-child and boy-child that they will grow up protected, let alone cherishing the equality between them. Which brings me to my point; the difference it makes to have someone stand up for you.

 The women’s movement has been working to ensure that women and girls have as many choices and opportunities as there are possibilities. 

The fear, however, is that this emphasis of women and girls’ empowerment could have been at the expense of the boy-child.

Take education, for example. Access to education lies at the heart of development, and persistent campaign for awareness of girls’ retention in school has made tremendous gains across the continent.

The gains ride on the back of the Education For All (EFA) goals enunciated in 2000 in Darkar, Senegal, that, to a significant extent, place emphasis on girl-child education.

Continuous lobbying and advocacy, and training to mainstream gender equity in the entire education system were urged, ironically leading to concerns that the boy-child may have been forgotten in the background.

For instance, the International Day of the Boy-Child does not exist. There is one for men, but boys are not men.

It is known how economic vulnerability of the boy-child’s family background is often a precursor to social delinquency that eventually leads to drop-out from school, and subsequently in life.

In much of rural Africa, children are often needed to work on the family land, with the boy-child often shouldering the burden. It often means that he also engages in manual jobs and does not attend schooling.

Add to these hawking and street trading, drug use and abuse, lack of role-modeling for boy-child and long process of education to realise the returns as some of the major factors leading to drop-out.

It is these same factors that lead to the phenomenon of street children, most of them boys, in urban areas across the continent.

There is no gainsaying that lack of access knowledge and skills define poverty and the vicious cycle it engenders on boys and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Gender equity, as internationally recognised, refers to the practice of fairness and justice in the distribution of benefits, access and control of resources, responsibilities, power, opportunities and services.

Thus, even as we harp on empowering the disadvantaged girl-child, let us also remember the boy-child. We could begin with an International Day of the Boy-Child.

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