By: Oluwasina Praise

Image Credit: Ray’s Photography (For Boys Without Borders)

Sometime in January this year, I had a conversation with a senior colleague who made me realize that the world, as it is, is unfair towards the female gender, hence the existence of a patriarchal society. “Therefore, fighting for the side the society would always support in the blink of an eye is not effecting change but adding to the problem of this world,” he said.

These words tapped into my soul and made me question all my supposedly good thoughts. However, a deeper dive into his words made me realize that he had no clue about the goals of boy child advocacy which made him fearful of it. Thus, this essay addresses his fears and other related ones by asking some fundamental questions.

Who is a Boy Child?

According to Dictionary.com, a boy child is any random male child, from birth to full growth, especially one less than 18 years of age. To further define who a boy is, social convention states that we have seen certain characteristics to differentiate a boy child. Among many of these characteristics are:

  • the ability to always take the leadership role and be proactive
  • the ability to take responsibility at all times and manage pressure
  • being decisive, resilient and strong, etc.

All these have formed what and who a boy child should be over the years, without room for him to be his own person. These, in simple terms, are called stereotypes. Some may say the identity of the boy child has been lost because convention has become the pillar that decides who a boy child is, based on the characteristics and attributes they allotted him. It is these societal narratives on the boy-child, which sometimes, are not beneficial to the child, or even harm his growth, that advocacy sets to change.

What is Boy Child Advocacy? 

In the world that we live in, advocacy is not a new concept. As known, advocacy is as any action that speaks in favour of, recommends, argues for a cause supports, or pleads on behalf of others.

A boy child advocacy initiative is a social programme aimed at grooming boys for purposeful living. It intends to raise passionate leaders and advocates who are willing to help boys achieve their potential. The advocacy seeks to deconstruct the stereotypical view of society and fix the so-called broken boy child. Also, the advocacy provides education to the boy child on issues such as sexual education, moral education, and the menace of sexual abuse. Most importantly, boy child advocacy provides therapists or counsellors who help the boy child in facing his day-to-day activities. Another aim of advocacy is to assist boys in making choices that improve their skills in relating with the opposite sex. This helps to promote social equality.

What is the Importance of Boy Child Advocacy?

Conventions have highlighted who and what a perfect man should be but issues like mental health, male rape, and insecurity issues don’t fall within that radar. Thus, any boy who exhibits these features is considered less than a man. However, advocacy aims to challenge certain stereotypes which perpetuate and heighten unfair behavior towards the boy child. This advocacy models boys to be change agents.

Boy child advocacy also seeks to address the society’s unspoken topics about the boy child. Take for instance rape. Men who experience sexual assault face severe stigma as culture promotes a stereotype that men always want sex. Many people believe men cannot possibly be victims of rape simply because they believe men benefit from it more.

When men report sexual assault, they often face doubt and ridicule. Others may blame the abuse on the man’s weakness or alleged homosexuality. Victim-blaming is especially likely when a man accuses a woman of sexual abuse. Due to this stigma, male survivors can be reluctant to label their experiences as rape or abuse. Some may not mention the event at all. However, reluctance to disclose prevents men from getting the needed treatment. Without professional help, some men resort to substance abuse or self-harm as coping mechanisms. These lead to mental health instability, another unspoken issue.

With this knowledge, advocacy provides an atmosphere free from the societal judgment and addresses these issues head on. It provides counsellors, therapists, and other professionals who help the boy-child overcome his mental health problems. They also publicly address the issue of rape, stating that males can be victims too. In this way, advocacy redefines the mind of the populace and helps lawmakers to maintain open minds when legislating on rape.

Until we begin to address these key issues — the fact that men get scared and cry, gender stereotypes, roles and equality — then having functional men will be nothing but a myth.

Finally, What have I Learned from the Conversation?

I have come to know that the world has double standards and though it sometimes favours males, there are still thousands of ways the boy child suffers in silence. Advocacy programmes for girl was to shed light on injustices that had been stopped to promote gender equality but boy child advocacy hasn’t received wide acceptance. A 2014 survey on violence against children showed that 25% of females and 11% of males are violated in childhood.

This goes to show that the boy also experiences abuse and the reason the abuse does not gain prominence is that boys, like men, are seen by society as the stronger sex, compared to women. While the problems faced by girls have occupied the front burner, those of the male child have been overlooked and unrecognized.  Little wonder why UNICEF in its 2015 report also stated that one in 10 boys in Nigeria has experienced sexual abuse. Somehow, the boy’s cases vanish under the radar.

Due to this, he ends up in trauma, depression, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts and always has tendencies for violence. However, boy child advocacy has come preaching the good news of the magnificence of the boy child. It illuminates the true path for boys but many of us, because of the world’s double standards, still fear that this kind of advocacy is uncalled for.

Well, in the words of Mary Harris Jones, “reformation, like education, is a journey, not a destination”. I have given a head start in this journey like many other advocacy programmes and my passion is to see change effected in the life of the boy child. With this, he would be strengthened and raised into a functional man, one capable of effecting real change in society.