Once again, the issue of abuse was on full display recently as our country marked the international campaign challenging gender-based violence.
This year was particularly stark for the campaign, given the fact that we continue to experience persistently high levels of abuse.
This suggests that such campaigns require a lot more attention from society than is the case currently.
Clearly, there is no silver bullet that will reverse the current trends. It is crucial that we understand this to avoid campaign fatigue.
This year saw a national summit against gender-based violence being convened at presidential level – by government, in collaboration with civil society.
In the aftermath of such a convention, the key challenge is what action will be taken to implement the many progressive ideas that were mooted.
Clearly, there is an argument to be made that many of the reasons advanced for the current state of gender-based violence have to do with the socialisation of boys.
Along with the many harrowing accounts of how violence was harboured within family structures, comes an urgent call for society to re-examine the collapse of family and community structures in our country.
This is clearly not something that government can do much about. Rather, it requires societal introspection about the collapse of basic values, such as respect and care for the next person.
The statistics of dysfunctional environments are frightening, with an estimated 10 million children growing up without parents – and, therefore, without a balanced upbringing.
At the centre of this dysfunctionality is the boy child – the potential perpetrator of violence. Many boys grow up with no positive male role model in the home or community.
Those who grow up in environments inhabited by abusive men tend to learn these habits and absorb them in their psyche as normalised behaviour.
It is an inescapable fact that we need to focus on the boy child if we hope to change this vicious cycle.
Dealing with today’s men, who have already internalised patriarchy, is dealing with the symptoms – we have to intervene early on in the life of a boy child if we hope to eradicate the scourge of abuse.
An extensive report on the subject was commissioned in Kenya and published recently. It sums up the problematic neglect of the boy child as follows:
. The perception that the boy child is being excluded from the gender equality agenda is valid.
While the patriarchal society places a high premium on the boy child, an over-focus on the girl child through selective programmes and interventions is pushing the boy to lose confidence and develop low self-esteem.
. The impact of the boy child being excluded from the gender equality agenda is likely to manifest through increased conflict with the law, an illiterate population, an increase in crime, and low self-esteem – leading to violence, truancy, and drug and substance abuse.
. The net effect will be that the development of the country will be impaired by having a large number of dependants, low skills development and little entrepreneurship.
. Socially, there will be failed marriages, dysfunctional families and a high incidence of gender-based violence.
According to the survey findings, there are no gaps in existing laws with regard to children’s rights, but there is poor enforcement and laxity on society’s part.
It is for this reason that loveLife launched the boy child campaign this year – to ensure that the ills identified in the Kenyan report are actively avoided.
Some initiatives that must be considered include the following:
. It is imperative to build a strong foundation through early childhood development. This is where the stereotypes must be tackled head-on to ensure that society can raise progressive men.
I am not aware of when the syllabus for this early stage was last revised to align with current challenges like gender-based violence.
. Linked to this is a need to create awareness of child rights at grass roots level and enforce parental responsibility when it comes to a child’s education and wellbeing. Many parents are not adequately involved in shaping their children’s formative years.
This is where value-based parenting either flourishes or is absent, and sorely missed.
. There is a need to develop pro-family policies to strengthen the family unit and to advocate this unit as the right environment in which to nurture children.
This is linked to the enhancement of family planning initiatives at grass roots level, to ensure that children are wanted and are properly nurtured.
. We need to stop all forms of child labour by ensuring compliance with the law. This will require the withdrawal of the licences of businesses that employ school-age children.
. We need to ensure that cultural rites, such as circumcision, are conducted in a way that does not deny boys the enjoyment of their right to be children and to get a good education.
. We need to direct bursaries and other pro-poor strategies to the most deserving children (especially with regard to families’ capacity to retain children in school).
It is crucial that we conduct more research on identifying aspects in the country that contribute to the marginalisation of the boy child – and that we prioritise solutions in the form of programmes and other interventions.
Focusing on the boy child to fight gender-based violence is a universal imperative, one that must be tackled by welcoming ideas from all and sundry.
Let us hope that by the time the 16 Days of Activism campaign comes around again, we will be armed with better strategies to save the boy child from being a potential perpetrator of violence, especially against women and children.
Ncube-Nkomo is chief executive officer at New loveLife Trust