A recent conversation around the dinner table almost ended up in a fray as my son complained bitterly about the lack of attention that the boy child was getting. He griped about how many opportunities in virtually every field was being availed to the girl child; scholarships in every discipline, internship programmes and so on.
Inasmuch as I could see his point, the milestones made towards the protection and the elevation thereof of the girl child has been tremendous and has gained considerable momentum over the last few years. Such milestones have meant that girls have equal access and opportunities to education as boys do. Keeping girls in school has saved girls from harmful practises such as female genital mutilation, early marriages and child pregnancies. Initiatives such as menstrual management have also gained traction. In fact just recently, Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya, signed a bill into law, stipulating the government would provide free sanitary towels to girls who had reached puberty in a bid to stem absenteeism from school. The Basic Education Amendment Act also provides that the Government will provide environmentally safe ways to dispose of these towels. These are many opportunities that were not available to girls even ten short years ago, and the impact is starting to be felt.
The business world is no different. In Kenya for example, other initiatives that the Government is making a 30% provision for women, the youth and persons with disabilities in public procurement. In terms of lending, some institutions have favourable lending terms for businesses that have more than a 50% ownership by women. Recently, a friend of mine said casually in a conversation that her organisation has seven departments, all of which are headed by women. That was never the intent, she explained, we just found ourselves at the top.
On the flipside, the use of alcohol is on the rise and rise, especially in rural Kenya, and your guess is as good as mine, the culprits are young men who seem to have a collective loss of the will to live. Their days are wiled away drinking cheap brew from dodgy looking cans, and made from dodgier ingredients, which are often laced with substances such as methanol to make them more “potent”. Every few years, there is usually mass hospitalisation of young men, who have imbibed these lethal drinks, if one can call them such. These drinks have caused blindness, paralysis and in extreme cases death. The question then that begs, can these young men really be judged?
As girls are being told that their dreams are valid, which they indeed are, boys on the other hand seem to drift aimlessly from one incomplete pursuit to another. Who is to blame? Is it their lack of role models from fathers and uncles, as it was in the years past? Is it that they don’t engage in enough physical pursuits to expend their energy and to feel a sense of security? Or does the education system not lend itself to enhancing their masculinity?
Whichever way, something has gone askew somewhere. Coming back to the girl child, she is told that she does not need a man to succeed, that they can do all things by themselves. While this is true, nature needs balance.
Nature needs the masculine and the feminine to co-exist and to complement each other. When these same girls grow up, they complain that chivalry is dead. No one pays their bills anymore. No one opens doors for them anymore. Entire songs have been written about dead-beat boyfriends, deadbeat fathers and dead-beat husbands. It seems to be a social malalignment that needs to be readjusted. What has fueled girl empowerment is hope. From
the time the girl child is in school, a picture of hope is painted for her. How her life will look when she passes here exams and goes to high school. How her star will shine bright at University. The doors that will be open to her when she graduates. And the kind of opportunities that will come her way as she starts to scale her career.
How about the boys? What are we telling our boys? What kind of future are we painting for them? Incidentally, the boy-child lagging behind is not just an African problem so to speak. They boy-child is also lagging behind even in more industrialised countries, where one would think that equal opportunities for boys and girls are a given.
As we continue to draft policies and to create opportunities for the girl child, the no child should be left behind.