One of the less equitable way the world has positioned the campaign for gender equality has been the uneven leaning towards women. There seems to be a code of silence and agreement that men have it all under control.
The world continues to cheer and applaud the unequipped men until they stray into the dark alley of life where they may eventually get lost and never return. We seem to be crossing the hurdles on women and leadership, as the diversity and inclusion agenda is creating more balance in the boardroom. Although a lot of work is still required to be done on the girl child, there are existing structures supporting their progress while the boys face almost a total neglect.
Hence the celebration of the International Men’s Day with the theme, “Making a Difference for Men and Boys” is very timely, especially as the mental health of men and boys remains a major enabler.
Nigeria ranks 15th position in the suicide rating across the world; more men committed suicide in 2019. At the foundation of most of this terrible decision of taking their own life lies the challenge of mental health or on their own perceived inadequacy, based on the expectation placed on them as men due to cultural and societal definition of a Man.
Just as the rate of suicide increase, Nigeria woke up on the 29th of October, 2019 to the news of a school boy who killed his school mate during a clash between schools in Lagos State, Nigeria. Prevalent amongst causes of this clashes are cult related activities, sexual practices such as gang raping girls, substance abuse amongst others.
“What about the Boy Child?” has been our major question at WELEAD (www.weleadnetwork.org). Today we run Character Building Classes, “Leadership Exchange Emerge –WELEAD LXE” with our focus on Boys. We worked with 169 boys at the Special Correction Center for Boys, Oregun, Lagos for 8 months. We also worked with about 42 boys at the Correctional Center for Senior Boys, Isheri, Lagos for 7 Weeks.
We are currently working with regular secondary schools in Lagos and we have impacted 300 Boys in 20 Schools in October, 2019. We will be reaching our 500 target/30 schools mark by Friday the 22nd of November, 2019, making it a complete round across Education District VI in Lagos state.
Our aim is to make the difference in the life of boys, and by extension men by building boys fool- proof of the menace of the society and the false expectation that has redefined who they should be. We teach 12 classes which includes Leadership, Masculinity & Sexuality, Emotional Intelligence, Delayed Gratification, Failing Forward, Personal Integrity, Critical Thinking, Peer Pressure, Time Management, Goal Setting, Substance Abuse (Mental Health) and an Entrepreneurial Skill – When Boys Cook and Personal & Home Products. Our aim is to groom mentally equipped, Independent and healthy boys who become men that support the progress of girls, women and other men in the society
One of the questions we usually asked during our class exercise is, “Who is a Man?” The definition of a man is etched in the definition of the alpha male, the social, cultural and religious beliefs. These has caused tensions and pressure as the boy child grows creating an unhealthy conflict between where they are, the yield on their effort, their achievement compared to their peers and the societal expectation of their gender.
In Nigeria, a man who is not able to provide the basic necessities of life for his family even when he is obviously making concerted effort is not spared the verbal venom and the label “Useless”. This actually starts from when a boy is not left alone to cry, shed tears, grieve, ask for help or let out his emotions without been castigated as less human.
Today the same actions that make women unique, more empathetic, caring, responsible and supportive are the same values withdrawn from boys under the auspices that they were un-manly. Today, we are faced with a very great challenge of, “How to make a difference for men and boys?” The strategy is for us is to Learn-Unlearn- Relearn;
Learn: The current state of the world is quite unhealthy with a high spate of violence across the globe orchestrated by boys and men. We must understand that the social climate has changed drastically from what it was when we were kids. Play which was largely driven by outdoor activities with physical friends has been replaced with indoor technology-driven activities with cyber, faceless friends. We must understand that social skills no longer exist for a technology-savvy boy who is glued to the screen 20 hours out of 24 hours with little or no physical contact or communication with real people
Unlearn: We must unlearn our joint definition of a man, only as an entity who provides – finance or a macho man defined by his handsome look or his well-built body. The stereotypes we have built makes men who do not fall into this bucket inadequate. This however starts with us unlearning the current way we raise boys that is deficient and detrimental to what we require for a more functional and effective society. We must understand that most men who become sexual monsters raping dozens of girls were also a product of some form of abuse. Who said blue is meant for boys? Who said its unmanly to cook, clean the house or watch over the kids? We must also understand that failure, leadership, success and other related traits are gender neutral, hence we must manage our expectations of the boy child or men, as individuals and not merely based on gender.
Relearn: Our ability to understand how to raise boys in the 21st century will determine the quality of the man in the future. Man must be re-defined in terms of his vision, the love he has for his family, genuine commitment to the success story of his wife or other female, ability to listen, ability to express their emotions safely and freely, capacity to handle failure, grace to delay gratification, priestly/leadership role in their homes and their capacity to protect their own.
In conclusion, we must understand that boys and men face real struggles, hence depleting men of worth into a limited editions. We can therefore make a difference by raising boys who will also make a difference. Happy International Men’s Day to all men, boys and women who love and support them!!!
Remember, when you chase the sun, you will catch the clouds, when you long for the moonlight, stories are heralded. Never seek perfection, simply stay genuine.