I recently had a conversation with a senior executive of a Non-Governmental Organisation that caters to the needs of women and the girls, economically, socially, and otherwise. His NGO is in the business of getting women the leverage they need to compete in our lopsided society. He spoke passionately about how our society has deprived women of their basic rights and the opportunity to lead a reasonable life.
Last year, his team visited a school in Ikorodu. They took time to teach the girls about the realities of being a teenager and how to cope with life’s uncertainties. But they left the boys out.
“What about the boys?” I asked.
He was lost in thought for a while and said with a smile, “it’s funny, we teach the girls to make something out of their lives, but we don’t educate the boys in the same manner”.
NGOs, like my friend’s, labour to teach the girls how to circumvent Nigeria’s harsh societal realities, but more often than not, they leave the boys out of the conversation.
The reality is, we expand our resources and efforts to help women and girls live above the boundaries put in place by society, while the boys and men are not taught or enlightened to join in the fight against gender-based deprivation
While there are a lot of NGOs, Foundations, and even corporate initiatives to help girls, only a handful cater to boys. For instance, I searched the internet and found just two NGOs working to grow responsible men out of the boys our society breeds.
Just like the girls, our boys are also victims of our societal prejudice and bias. A boy-child did not come into this world with the hope of asserting his patriarchy privilege. He was born into the society and brainwashed to believe that the society is meant to favour him.
Just as most Nigerian mothers are accused of aiding patriarchy when they socialize their female children to behave in a certain way in order to conform with society, I believe NGOs, targeted at only girls, are guilty of aiding gender inequity in our society.
The lopsided attention given to a certain gender does not conform to the concept of gender equity. The concept requires that every person, regardless of his/her gender, is given equal opportunity to learn, grow, and lead a fulfilling life.
We cannot expect to fight an unjust society by leaving out some group of that society in the fight. It is in a display of gender bias to only cater to the girls in the society. The boys need to be brought into the fight against gender inequality.
In terms of productive health, efforts are mostly geared at educating and assisting women, but few are targeted at men. However, in our society, men make the rules in their homes. Women may want to implement all they are being taught, but when their men say otherwise, they have no choice but to yield.
If we indeed want to fight gender-based violence, we must also face the male child, we must engage them in discussions. You cannot empower the women to flourish and expect them to do so without the cooperation of their men.
Gender inequality is a reality in Nigeria, but we cannot fight this with more inequality. The boy and the girl-child are both sides of the coin, one cannot do without the other. The fight can only be won when we give both sides equal opportunities to thrive. It is important we educate them in the same way.
Jimmy Carter‘s words are valid in this regard: “It is time that men and boys recognize the part they must play in gender equality and join with the voices and actions of the women and girls who are trying to re-shape society in the interests of us all”.
Boys and men cannot join the fight against social injustice against women and girls when we don’t actively get them involved. They need to know the reason why they need an equal society.
We need to work out modalities to build a society where both genders engage themselves to dislodge odd societal precedence. This is the way we win the battle against gender inequality.