Boys too, when everything seems to be for girls

Why does society always think the boy child is safe against the stereotypical prepositioning that he is privileged and advantaged in social settings with high tenets of patriarchal dominance?

Some boys have stories that send one to re-consider the narrative that has leaned more towards empowering the girl-child, at the exclusion of the boy child.

In my professional work of empowering young girls to access education, I have come across young boys whose stories can reconfigure our position on boys in the girl-child empowerment programmes. While many organisations are able to help girls, boys are left out in the cold. I met this young boy who was looking for help. His eyes were red from crying, his old and frail mother looked hopeless. What could I do? My project had an underline clause of girl-child education; here was a boy, whose story needed a helping hand.

The boy had written his Standard Eight examinations thrice. The first time he was selected to a community day secondary school, unfortunately, he could not go, his elderly mother could not afford school fees. The other two times he was selected to a district secondary school, he did not even go because there were no school fees.

It is locally and internationally recognised that education is a human right. It is guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and legislated in Malawi. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals further prioritise the role of education in development.

In a paper on accelerating progress toward education for all, the World Bank said: “Good education reduces poverty and inequality and is essential for sustained economic growth. Combined with good macroeconomic policies, it is fundamental for the construction of democratic societies and globally competitive economies”.

However, the ordeal experienced by boys like the one in question leaves us with unanswered questions on the call for leaving no one behind when some boys are struggling to access education.

 In the recent years, there has been an outpouring of resources into the country for interventions promoting girls’ education. Malawi has developed policies and documents to guide the promotion of girls’ education. Among them is the New Education Act (2013) which made education compulsory, the National Girls’ Education Strategy and the learner re-admission policy.

Various development partners have poured in a lot of resources into Malawi to help the Malawi Government fulfil its dream of ensuring “that all girls in Malawi access, participate in, complete and excel at all levels of education that empowers them to effectively contribute to the country’s sustainable social, economic development by 2018.”

However, not much has been done to support the boy child and it is further baffling when the experiences of many boys failing to attain education come to the fore when their counterparts are receiving all the support. Even though enrolment in primary school (especially in grades 1-4) is almost 50-50 between boys and girls, a big number of girls drop out along the way despite all the efforts and interventions put in place by the government and development partners to improve the situation. I think the education system in Malawi suffers more than the gender divides; while some efforts are made for the girl child, the boy child is left behind suffering.

 Who is going to save them if we do not? Who is going to fight for their right to education if we leave them behind? Who is going to hold their hand while we have focused all our energies on the girl child? As we are educating the girl child, let us remember that these boys are ours too. Leaving them behind will have far worse consequences than including them. While some scholarships are struggling to reach their target because a lot of girls dropped out due to pregnancy related reasons, there are boys who are failing to go to school because of lack of school fees. These boys are as much our children as the girls and they also deserve our efforts in the education drive.

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