Because I Am A Girl: So, What About Boys?

September 23rd 2011, Nairobi – Men in power, both at an institutional and family level, can help change girls’ lives. But some of the men we interviewed for this year’s report were concerned that they and their sons might lose out if gender equality were to be realised.

As the father of one of the girls in our cohort study said: “These days, there are fewer opportunities for men, because women are better prepared, they are studying more. Women are learning that they have equal rights and there are few spaces left for men.”

However, another father observed: “Now there are better relationships. There is more unity, more togetherness and better communication, they get on better now. Before, there was more brutality, more chauvinism.”

Another interviewee told us: “It is great if a country understands the true value of a woman. It will help the development of the country.”

The experience of 16 year-old Nixon Odoyo from Kenya is illuminating. His father left home and his mother, who had never been to school, struggled to provide for her children. Nixon then watched his sister, married at 15 and forced to drop out of school, repeat her mother’s struggle.

His childhood experiences have turned him into a campaigner for girls’ education.

Pascal Akimana, aged 27, from Burundi was brought up in a very violent home and, powerless to intervene, watched his father abuse his mother. He, like Nixon, has become a campaigner, working with men and boys to address men’s violence against women and children.

He too knows from personal experience that everyone stands to gain – men, women and children – from gender equality.

One of the most destructive aspects of inequality between the sexes – the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior – fuels male violence towards them. So too does the notion that ‘real men’ are tough and hard and that the only appropriate emotion for them to display is anger.

This does not just harm women and girls, it also damages men and boys. Concepts of ‘traditional’ masculinities force them to behave in ways that make them uncomfortable. They may not dare to express their emotions, or they may experience violence themselves and then take it out on others.

“The only way to transform gender relations, and to tackle the unequal power structures that lie at the root of discrimination, is for men and boys to be convinced of the basic unfairness of the lingering inequality between the sexes, to be horrified by gender based violence, to challenge the stereotypical constructs of male and female that exist and to be energetically committed to change” said Mr. Gezahegn Kebede, the RegionalDirector, Plan International Region of Eastern and Southern Africa during the launch of ‘Because I Am A Girl; The State of the World’s Girls’ 2011 Report at Panafric Hotel, Nairobi.

Read the full report here 

By Patrick Ngigi

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