May 21, 2024

Giving voice to the boy-child in a changing society  

Giving voice to the boy-child in a changing society  


IN recent years, the emphasis on gender equality and empowerment has rightly focused on the issues affecting girls and women. This attention is crucial and has significantly advanced efforts to address gender disparities. However, it is equally important to recognise the challenges faced by boys and young men. Historically, boys have received minimal attention from society, often due to the perception that their innate strength and resilience require less support and training from an early age.

For the boy-child, redefining masculinity means breaking free from the constraints of outdated gender norms and embracing a more holistic and inclusive understanding of what it means to be a man. It involves challenging the notion that masculinity is synonymous with traits like stoicism, aggression, and emotional suppression, and instead, recognising that strength can manifest in vulnerability, empathy, and authenticity.

In redefining masculinity, the boy-child is faced with the pressure to adhere to traditional gender roles from a young age. Boys are often socialised to believe that expressing emotions other than anger or dominance is a sign of weakness, leading them to suppress their feelings and struggle to form meaningful connections with others. This can have detrimental effects on their mental health and interpersonal relationships.

A few days ago, the International Day of the Boy-Child 2024 was celebrated worldwide with the theme, “Passion and Drive: Igniting the Fire Within the Boy-Child.” During the observance, experts highlighted the need to recognise the unique challenges and potential of boys. Annually, the boy-child receives comparatively less attention than the girl-child. Data shows that passion projects and initiatives are predominantly driven by women and often focus solely on the girl-child. This emphasis on the girl-child can be largely attributed to global media attention and efforts by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and other international organisations which have inadvertently neglected the boy-child.

One of the key issues facing the boy-child is societal expectations and stereotypes. From a young age, boys are often taught to suppress their emotions, adhere to rigid notions of masculinity, and avoid activities or interests perceived as “feminine”. These societal norms can be damaging, leading to issues like mental health struggles, poor self-esteem, and difficulty forming meaningful relationships.

By giving a voice to the boy-child, we can challenge these harmful stereotypes and create space for boys to express themselves authentically. Encouraging emotional intelligence and empathy in boys can help them develop healthier relationships and a better understanding of themselves and others. It’s essential to teach boys that it’s okay to feel and express a full range of emotions, whether it’s joy, sadness, anger, or fear.

Education also plays a vital role in giving a voice to the boy-child. Schools should promote inclusive and gender-sensitive curricula that reflect the diverse experiences and identities of all students. By teaching boys about gender equality, consent, and respectful relationships, we can help them become more informed and compassionate individuals.

Furthermore, addressing the unique challenges faced by boys from marginalised communities is essential. Boys from low-income families, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+ communities often face additional barriers to education, employment, and social inclusion. By acknowledging and addressing these disparities, we can create more equitable opportunities for all boys, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Another crucial aspect of giving a voice to the boy-child is fostering positive male role models. Boys benefit from seeing men who defy traditional gender norms, embrace vulnerability, and prioritise empathy and kindness. By highlighting diverse male role models in media, sports, and leadership positions, we can challenge narrow definitions of masculinity and inspire boys to be their authentic selves.

Parenting also plays a significant role in giving a voice to the boy-child. Parents should encourage open communication, provide emotional support, and challenge gender stereotypes at home. By fostering a nurturing and accepting environment, parents can help boys develop a strong sense of self-worth and resilience.

Are we not overlooking the challenges faced by boys in society today? Have we neglected the needs of the boy child in our pursuit of gender equality? When will the attention given to both genders, in terms of projects, awareness, and initiatives, be balanced? How can we elevate the awareness campaign concerning issues that promote the well-being of the boy-child? The time for society to address these questions and secure urgent attention and intervention for the boy-child is now.

Giving a voice to the boy- child in society is essential for creating a more inclusive, equitable, and compassionate world. By challenging harmful stereotypes, promoting inclusive education, addressing systemic barriers, highlighting positive male role models, and fostering supportive parenting practices, we can empower boys to thrive and contribute positively to their communities.

Redefining masculinity is not only crucial for men of all ages but also holds particular significance for the boy-child as they navigate their journey to manhood in a rapidly evolving world. By challenging outdated gender norms, we can create a society where the boy- child feels empowered to embrace his true self and where masculinity is defined not by stereotypes but by authenticity, empathy, and respect. It’s high time we recognised and addressed the unique challenges faced by boys and work together to create a world where every child, regardless of gender, has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

•Ojewale is of the Public Affairs and Enlightenment Department of LASTMA and wrote via: [email protected]