In the years of implementing the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) programme, it became increasingly apparent to CSTL partners – MIET AFRICA, the SADC Secretariat and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SCD) – that there was a major gap in the delivery of care and support to boys and young men, which was hindering programme goals for gender equality, HIV reduction and improved educational outcomes for all children. Increasing drop-outs among boys in SADC Member States and global discussions on masculinity, gender norms and gender-based violence pointed to the need to explore the issue of vulnerability among boys, particularly those in secondary school, around their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) knowledge and access to services.
A research study in Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi was commissioned by SDC to enable a better understanding of the key issues affecting boys and make recommendations for future school-based programming. UNICEF and Kheth’Impilo contributed funding to include three provinces in South Africa in the study, which ran from June 2018 to January 2019.
The key objectives of the study were:
- To understand the vulnerabilities that boys face in relation to their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including accessing HIV services
- To understand how these vulnerabilities impact on educational outcomes
The study comprised a regional desktop review and in-country data collection. Information was gathered on issues such as the availability of programmes for boys at school or in the surrounding community; the level of knowledge among boys regarding their sexual and reproductive health and how to protect themselves against HIV; and ideas around gender norms and the meaning of “being a man”. A total of 91 focus group discussions were held involving boys, girls, teachers and community members, including parents. Among the issues that emerged from the discussions were poverty and a lack of positive role models for boys, resulting in school drop-out, substance abuse, gangsterism and abusive sexual relationships.
Recommendations of the study included: establishing holistic programmes for boys where they can have open discussions with their peers and get correct information on HIV&AIDS and SRHR, positive masculinities and gender norms, as well as life skills such as career guidance and money management; ensuring that all educators are equipped to teach CSE; establishing accessible, confidential, youth-friendly referral services; encouraging NGOs working with boys to expand to other areas; and empowering parents with accurate information about sexuality, relationships and positive health-seeking behaviour to share with their children.