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No, the boy child has not been neglected; focus has simply shifted to girls

By James Wanzala | May 6th 2021

Boy child is under siege, goes a popular saying by critics who claim that over-empowerment of the girl child is the reason behind the troubled life of Kenya’s young men.

The Nairobian sat down with Kennedy Odhiambo, an advocacy officer at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet). He argues that it’s time for the girl child to enjoy rights she has been denied for a long time.  

Is it true that boys are neglected?

No. The so-called ‘neglect’ is because there is no guidance for today’s boy child. Historically, in many African settings, boys were sent away to play or hunt for small animals with fellow boys. That is where they were taught aspects of life. Meanwhile, girls were left at home to focus on household chores.

Today, nurturing the boy child has been left in the hands of their peers and people who are not skilled to bring up some responsible men fit for present realities.

Critics also claim that more projects are geared towards girls …

It’s not true. Many local organizations including Movement of Men Against Aids or Advocates for Social Change Kenya, focus on empowering boys and men. Globally, we have movements like He For She Movement among others. Problem is people who do good do not attract attention.

I am also in the process of bringing together a network of organizations called National Alliance for Men Gender Justice to encourage men and boys to work towards changing their mindset and fit in the current day human rights environment.

By the way, there is no single programme in the world that is aimed at empowering the girl child at the expense of the boy child. It’s just that the girl child rights are being applied more now compared to the past. The response or uproar that is coming up today is due to the gains that women are making in society and in their lives and men are not able to fit in this new reality.

So, what is your big concern in today's society where roles have changed?

There is a big concern for men, like how do they behave where a woman is the breadwinner. When this is not reconciled with the traditional upbringing that men are the providers, it brings conflict.

The new world order is conscious of human rights and views both men and women as equal human beings.

Men need to understand themselves because many a times they lose identity by applying selfish theories that benefit them.

We need to look at man in three aspects, namely biological makeup —which is universal and standard all over the world. Socially — this is where religion, culture, work, attitudes and beliefs come in. Institutionally, where they operateand assess critically patriarchal environments such as parliament and military, where men are still predominant.

Of the three aspects of a man, which is key to understanding women?

The biggest challenge among men is the socio-cultural aspect, the software that drives a man.

If you ask a man today why he behaves the way he does, he will blame it on religion, culture and peers. The first thing we need to do is to begin to deconstruct this socialization of a man; so that he begins to realize that times have changed and girls excelling in various fields that were once dominated by men.

Men should start speaking about violence against men. Unfortunately, we as men have been socialized to be powerful and not to cry or share our weaknesses.

When a GBV case happens in the home and the victim is a man, in most cases, he is embarrassed to speak out because he will be ridiculed. This was the same for women sometime back, but right now we are encouraging men to speak out to get interventions. Nobody should be violated, be it a man or woman.

Talking of GBV, what do the numbers look like?

Among the cases, 81 per cent involved husbands beating wives while 19.8 per cent was of wives beating husbands.

According to data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, United Office on Drugs and Crime and National Crime Research Centre, cases of gender based violence increased from 1,057 between January and June 2019 to 2,032, an increase of 92 per cent compared to the same period the previous year.

Between January and December 2020, a total of 5,009 GBV cases were recorded through the national toll-free helpline of 1195, indicating an increase of 1,411 or 36 per cent from the previous year with Kakamega, Kisumu, Nakuru and Nairobi counties still recording high cases.

The most recent GBV cases were reported in Kiambu, where two men separately killed their lovers.

Psychologists attribute this to mental instability, poor parenting, poverty that leads to anger and a situation where people are suddenly spending more time together compared to the past.

As FEMNET, what are you doing about GBV and men?

We are trying to educate society to avoid teasing men for not assaulting their wives; as a sign of being overpowered at home.

I however regret that majority of men are not taking good care of themselves and remain endangered. Men should begin to ask themselves difficult questions like are they able to fit in a society where a woman is empowered, is the breadwinner, or has a gun because she is security personnel? Can they marry this woman?

What would you advise a man who lives with a woman who makes more money?

Men should know that today there are no jobs reserved for women and should be willing to do other jobs to remain economically independent. Men have lost jobs, more so owing to impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

How should men view women today?

As equal human beings. This should not be confused with the biological makeup of male and female. Equality is about treating the other person as a human being — not as a woman. This means we view all genders as deserving of equal education, opportunities, pay, among others.

Men and society need to acknowledge the fact that many times women have been left behind and there are deliberate efforts to uplift them, and men should look at it as being empowered.



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