Empowering Boys to Advocate for Girls
Phoebe Ekman, a Global G.L.O.W. Partnership Coordinator from Tumaini La Maisha in Kenya, emphasized the importance of empowering young boys to be advocates for the girls and women in their lives. Here is her account, in her own words:
When a boy is alone around a girl or a group of girls, we notice that they are gentle, loving, accepting, and even protective over them. But if a group of boys gets together, they tend to attack the girls verbally by cat calling, sexualizing them, and even intimidating the girls so that they feel dominant.
Growing up, I was attacked verbally by close friends of the opposite sex especially when they were with other boys. Whenever I would confront the said friends and ask them why they did not stand up for me, the answer would always be the same “I don’t want my friends to see me as a weakling.” These are the same boys who have sisters, mothers, and female relatives, and yet, they bully girls in the communities where they live.
We are changing this narrative at Tumaini La Maisha (TLM). We are writing a new story of a culture where boys treat girls as equals in the education and administrative sectors (click here to find out more about TLM’s projects). We need men who are feminists who stand up for their sisters, mothers, and wives. We need men who do not see women as less than. And this has to begin at a young age.
However, looking back at the interactions I had with male figures in my life, I realized that traditionally, men and young boys were shaped by the strong cultural beliefs throughout past generations that taught them that a woman or a girl’s place was at home, and specifically the kitchen. However, roles are changing. Women are able to do things they were never allowed to do before. This trend has given women a voice. The girls are becoming more confident in their bodies as more teachings and educative materials are put out there, especially stories depicting courage and determination among women.
But right now, young boys and men are losing out on how to be better human beings in society. Many believe that women are taking their roles from them and they do not have mentors to teach them how they can work with women cohesively. TLM is working towards empowering young boys to be more appreciative of the women in their lives. The boys need to know at a young age that it is okay to let women help out with the financial burdens and decision-making within society. The men/boys have to ensure that they have mentors who can teach them and mentor them on how women and girls should be treated and how to become better men/boys in society. They also have to be content with the fact that women are a tool of change in society and they should view this as a good thing.
With the progression of women’s rights all over the world, Africa is still struggling to reach the level of recognition when it comes to women having administrative posts in governments. With this in mind, TLM is devising methods of having a co-educational activity by reaching out to the boys within its community and bringing them to the discussion table through activities such as soccer and beadwork. TLM is geared to ensuring that the boys (ages 10 to 16) are receiving the right information about the rights of girls and women. We want to ensure that they are able to understand that the confidence of girls in a community will grow three times as much if the women and girls have men standing up for their rights. The boys need to empathize with the girls because the girls, who are their classmates and sisters and aunts, work 10 times as much as the boys in order to be recognized. Yet, the girls and women bring 95 percent of the community building to the table. We want the boys to look at their mothers and recognize the hard work they have put into their day-to-day life to ensure that they, the boys, can go to school.
TLM is also championing bringing awareness to the menstrual struggles that women and girls go through. Many girls lose about 5 to 8 days in a month due to menstrual struggles such as lack of sanitary towels, period cramps, and low self-esteem. Therefore, TLM created a co-educational mixed soccer team with about 30 players; 15 boys and 15 girls. The team meets every 3 Sundays of the month and they open the sessions with a word of prayer, relearning the ground rules, discussing a given topic (relationship boundaries, empathy within the group, advocacy, reproductive health sessions) and they also learn how to give positive praise at the end of every session.
From these sessions, we are hoping that both mentor Jasmin and Coach Castro will be able to improvise activities that will ensure that both the girls and boys feel safe to talk about matters that society regards as taboo. Menstrual Hygiene and girls’ rights are among the topics that will take precedence during the meeting days. TLM wants to make boy champions of girls’ human rights. This way, the boys can then be advocates for the rights of the girls wherever they go.