Drop the idea that empowering girls disempowers boys

Abandon the idea that empowering girls disempowers the boy child.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • Before we get to talk, it is worth noting that most boys today lack role models.
  • Unfortunately, many purpose-driven nurturers have given precedence to their jobs and careers.

A 50-year-old man was this week sentenced to life imprisonment for marrying a nine-year-old girl as his fourth wife and impregnating her.

He was arrested at a Narok hospital where he had rushed the girl after she developed labour-related complications.

The minor, unfortunately, suffered a stillbirth after undergoing a Caesarean operation.

Child marriage almost always involves girls. Studies show that 12 million girls are married off annually before they turn 18. Worse still, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of adolescent girls’ death.

I am glad the girl got some ‘reprieve’ and hope she re-joins school after the ordeal. Empowering women and girls as decision-makers and agents of change will help in achieving lasting solutions to such practices.

Educating girls is an essential part of ending the vice, and breaking the cycle of poverty that drives it.

It is also crucial to engage men and boys, and address their attitudes and opinions, as they hold significant social power in traditional cultures. Child marriage is deeply rooted in gender inequality.

Despite rampant cases of this vice in most Kenyan communities, emerging perceptions suggest that the boy child has been left behind in the gender equality agenda.

Last year, Second Lady Dorcas Rigathi announced plans to introduce a nationwide boy-child empowerment programme.

In the same year, Prof Margaret Kobia, the Gender and Youth Affairs Cabinet Secretary at the time, called for inclusivity in the empowerment of boys and girls.

These concerns, coming from two distinguished women, point to an issue that needs a national conversation.

No role models

But before we get to talk, it is worth noting that most boys today lack role models. Unfortunately, many purpose-driven nurturers have given precedence to their jobs and careers.

These same men were told they are leaders; that certain chores at home are girls’ and that men don’t cry. All these contrast the present realities of life.

Support for the boy child should start at home. Again, just like women feminists have consistently fought for girls’ and women’s space, more men should speak up against vices committed against boys, and not wait for the same women to do it on their behalf.

Today’s women and girls are professionals, they pay bills and the majority are breadwinners – something that does not sit well with some men because, traditionally, men brought home the hunt. It is society’s role to bring these men into today’s realities by deconstructing their socialisation.

Just because women are winning doesn’t mean men can’t win. The world is an abundant place where we can all have opportunities, create value and win together.

As I shared last week, gender equality initiatives have primarily focused on empowering women for obvious reasons. Men, globally, have benefitted from patriarchy, enjoying more rights. They still dominate cabinets, boardrooms, and politics, among other leadership positions; and this hurts women.

Making the boy child an endangered species is certainly not the way to go. We should abandon the idea that empowering one group disempowers the other. Our focus today, should be on the boy child’s role in this gender equality dream we are chasing.

There has never been any programme aimed at empowering girls while disempowering boys. What has changed is that girl child rights are being applied more today. It is the reason justice was served to the Narok girl.

Child marriage, sexual exploitation and poverty are perpetually locked together. In today’s edition of The Voice, we present the first instalment in a three-part investigative series on the sexual exploitation of girls and women in the travel and tourism sector.

Meanwhile, did you know that May 16 is the International Day of the Boy Child? Now you know.