In recent years, so much research, writing and action has been directed towards the girl child, but little or practically nothing was done for the boy child. In fact, the phrase “boy child” has only come to prominence recently. Even in the FutureLife-Now! schools, there is a lot of work done by other organizations specifically for girls. For example, one of these organizations has recently built a state-of-the-art girl’s toilet in one of the schools.
Such work is, of course, salutary and necessary, but FutureLife-Now! recognises that boys too have needs; they too are vulnerable. To truly address gender-inequality, those vulnerabilities also need to be addressed. Boys and young men feeling neglected later causes many of the gender-related problems that we see in our communities.
FutureLife-Now! in Zimbabwe started boys mentorship clubs, the main purpose of which was to give boys a platform to talk and discuss the issues that they face, and then to find solutions together. But the boys themselves need to be heard. So, here, in their voices, are what some of the young men, members of the mentorship clubs, have to say.
Over the years, everything has been about the girl child, leaving the boy child vulnerable to all forms of abuse, [including] child labour and gender-based violence at the hands of adults. Boys have been suffering from gender inequality resulting in some dropping out of school, being street kids, and very vulnerable.
For a greater part of African history, boys are made more vulnerable by African norms and practices related to manhood. Boys tend to live by society’s expectations that “men don’t cry”. The sad and undeniable fact is that boys are literally crying from inside, and this is the reason why we are having many cases of men committing suicide. Boys are dropping out of school, engaging in violent behaviours and unsafe sex, among other harmful practices, because this is what they believe they must do to be regarded as “real men”.
I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from other people’s mistakes. Our school also works very hard to address these gaps through programmes that address boys’ vulnerabilities at school and community levels. We have been educated on sexual and reproductive health rights, health screening and treatment. Counselling has also been vital in our programmes. We have been running awareness campaigns against suicide, drug abuse and promoting gender equality. It is also very important to involve young people in decision making concerning their future for it is believed that “It is only the blind who understand the problems that pester him.” There is need for the creation of a student council at school and community levels at large because I believe that “The greatest listener of a child’s problem is a child”, so why look any further than the boy child himself.
As the new headboy [at Nashville High School], my aim is to get my fellow learners as involved as possible in school activities and decision making.
After two months from dropping out of school caused by lack of finances after my parents’ separation, I started searching for my father. Every beginning of a term was a time of humiliation for me as I would be sent back home for non-payment of school fees. My mother could not afford paying my fees. She tried getting me under government assistance, but nothing worked. I got weary of the situation and dropped out of school. I went around doing small jobs in my community such as digging in the fields during rainy seasons, I even went to the nearby forest chopping firewood and selling it.
When I found my father, he had lost his job and wasn’t in a state to help me, he was also going through a hard time. My uncle took me in and offered to help me get back to school so I could help change his and my mother’s lives. I am now back at school. As much as I am a couple of years older than everyone in my class, I have worked so hard to turn the ridicule from other learners into respect. Actively participating in clubs and the FutureLife-Now! programme has boosted my confidence and has given me a chance to speak out and stand up for other students and families who cannot speak out for themselves. I am now a school prefect and I endeavour to inspire other learners. The clubs, run by students, have been giving me assistance on matters related to my educational progression. Hardships don’t survive, determined people do!
l never cared about what transpired in or around the school premises. I [went] invisibly around the school. This was caused mainly by the neglect, lack of recognition, coupled by lack of confidence and low esteem. The exposure through boys’ clubs and several workshops where l was mentored [has] moulded me into the young man I am today. This year I was elected senior prefect who is dedicated to his duties, a cheerful and confident public speaker, a firm President of the school’s Interact club aspiring to become a renowned lawyer one day.
It does not matter if you have been isolated because you are a boy, or you have been told that tears make you weak as a man. Never assume that loud is strong and quiet is weak because it is the lion’s silence that signals danger, not his roar. It is not the society that takes charge of your life, but it is you! and you do not want to make a permanent decision from your temporary emotions. I am becoming man who will stand and talk for the voiceless and inspire positive change to society.