Kojoa Upigwe!: Boy-child Problems in Kenya

“My friend, are you anti-feminist?” Jason yelled at me on the phone.

It was an exceptionally beautiful day during the winter of 2017. Though it was chilly, the sun was shining brightly from the cloudless blue sky. I had decided to walk to campus rather than taking the bus so that I could profit from the rare winter sunshine. While at it, I called Jason for a chat. The Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results had just been announced and, like the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) results announced a few weeks earlier, girls were deemed to have outperformed their male counterparts. Jason was responding to my sentiments that the national exam results were indicative of the negligence of the boy child in Kenya, which I partly blamed on the concerted and meritorious efforts to emancipate the girl child.

“This is risky for our society than it was when less attention had been given to the girl child!” I concluded to Jason’s consternation.

Image courtesy of the Standard newspaper

Our society isn’t well balanced gender-wise. Girls and women need the society’s attention. Definitely, we even need to do better than we are doing. But as we do that, we should not forget the Kiswahili proverb, kidole kimoja hakivunji chawa. The boy child has received less and less attention in recent years. In the meantime, we have concentrated on empowering the girl child, who had hitherto been neglected. Consider with me this experience that I had as a twelve-year-old.

One hot afternoon, Mr. Kiugu came to our class and ordered all the girls to go to class 4 which usually doubled up as the school meeting hall whenever there was need to meet indoors. All girls from other classes were required in there as well. We, boys from class 6, were constrained within our classroom as were boys from all the other classes. Class 4 boys were ordered to move to class 5. Teachers stood guard outside the classrooms to ensure no boy intruded the secret affair the girls were having with teachers in the “hall”. This happened every so often in our school. We, boys, felt left out. We couldn’t help wondering what the girls and the teachers were conspiring. We felt like we did not deserve the attention of teachers. We theorized that girls were namby-pamby and needed to be babysat. Deep down however, and in more intimate conversations, we knew this was just a consolation. The truth was that to us, girls had a friendship bond with teachers while we were just their acquaintances. To make up for it, some of us would bully the girls. Others became naughty just to attract the elusive attention of teachers. As you might guess, it did not end up well for those of us who did this. If only we had known better!

Certainly, the teachers had nothing against us, now I know. And they were not favoring the girls. It’s just that our needs were different from girls’. Girls’ needs, especially at our age and our social statuses, were critical. They needed to know some things urgently. The impression we got back then though was the exact opposite. It impacted us both in the short and in the long run.

The attention that we, as a society, are giving and have given the girl child for the last few decades is commendable and much needed. It certainly is not even enough yet; we need to double our efforts. We have however forgotten our boys in the process. We raise boys with little attention. When sending them out for errands, we care little about giving them a helping hand because “boys are capable”. We scold them when they cry in pain, because “boys don’t cry”. We fire them up for their “toughness” when they get into fights. We cheer them for “conquering” when they get sexually active and sleep with several women. Even when it comes to things as simple as use of the lavatory, we give little to no instruction to boys. It’s no wonder that the audience of signs such as “USIKOJOE HAPA” or “KOJOA UPIGWE” is men and boys!

The changing times have taught us that the girl child needs our attention and while we need to augment our efforts on that, a holistic society can only be built if we strike a balance in raising both the boy and the girl. Today, we have a breed of stronger, independent, charismatic, and intelligent women thanks to women empowerment efforts. On the other hand, more and more contemporary young men are turning out to be less responsible, less confident, and more dependent. This imbalance is dangerous. It can mean a weaker male spouse in a marriage relationship or lack of a suitable spouse for women who would like to raise families. This threatens the family unit and eventually the society. It can also mean increased crime and violence in our neighbourhoods. We do not need to wait until the boy child, and consequently our society is in crisis before we can act. We can raise both our boys and our girls with the needs of contemporary times in mind. If we wait till the boy child negligence is a menace, circumstances might force us to forget the girl then and concentrate our efforts on rescuing the boy. Finally, it will end up as a vicious cycle that will never give us the solutions we seek. All we will achieve is a dysfunctional society.

NB: Featured image courtesy of Child Development Initiatives Instagram page under #boychildstruggles.

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