As we are ending Women’s Month and we look at the role of women in this country as well as ensuring that women have equal rights and opportunities- it is essential that we include everyone in this conversation. This month, I was invited into the corporate sector to give my views on the challenges one faces as a woman leader. As I was speaking, I realise that we can’t just be talking to women but that in the journey towards achieving gender equality and eradicating gender-based violence, it’s essential to remember that the fight isn’t just for one gender—it’s for everyone. While the focus on women’s rights and empowerment is crucial, we must also acknowledge the importance of including boys and addressing the challenges they face in this equation. By ensuring that our efforts encompass the wellbeing of all genders, we can build a more just and equitable society for everyone.
When we look at gender-based violence in this country, we need ask ourselves why violence is so prevalent, why is it one of our biggest issues and why are men who are the perpetrators of such crime usually extremely violent towards their victims? The scary thing is we are seeing this in our groups in schools, we are seeing boys as young as 7 stabbing each other in the head with pencils, we are seeing the celebration of violence towards each other and now seeing more girls join gangs and acting out in violence than ever before. We see that by excluding boys from the conversation surrounding gender-based violence, we miss an opportunity to address the root causes that affect everyone. Inclusive advocacy acknowledges the complex interplay of societal norms, toxic masculinity, and traditional gender roles that contribute to violence.
But it isn’t just with gender-based violence it has to do with leadership roles as well. I have often struggled as a woman in leadership particularly for men to take me seriously in what I have to say or present not only in the NGO sector but corporate sector too. I would end up in tears wondering what it is wrong with me? And often the advice I got from other females in the field is that I have to think like a man and act like a man. This got me thinking over the years, what if we just taught both genders how to treat each other equally? By dismantling gender stereotypes and providing equal opportunities for all, we can pave the way for a brighter future marked by inclusive, effective, and empathetic leadership.
The reality is that society often assigns rigid gender roles that can limit both girls and boys. While girls have historically been affected by discriminatory norms, boys too face their own set of challenges. Boys are often told to suppress their emotions, to “be a man” and not show vulnerability. These expectations can lead to toxic masculinity, negatively impacting their mental health and overall wellbeing. In advocating for gender equality, we need to encourage boys to embrace their emotions and recognize that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.
We have seen this time and time again in our psychosocial programmes particularly our “Man in the Mirror Programme” (a group for teen boys becoming the man they want to be). It is here, that they start challenging the norms that society (including families and communities) have put onto them and start reflecting on who they want to be and what they mean in terms of their behaviour. For example, if they want to be men of integrity how do they show it to others, if they want to be a good father what does that mean, if they want to be men of honesty what does that look like day-to-day?
Majority of the children we work with do not have positive male role model in their lives and it is essential for all children that when they witness men who exhibit kindness, integrity, and resilience, they learn to develop healthy self-esteem and recognize the value of these qualities in themselves. Whether fathers, uncles, grandfathers, teachers, mentors, or community figures, these role models contribute to the holistic development of children, nurturing their emotional, intellectual, and social growth in unique ways. Positive male role models provide children, especially boys, with a framework for building their identity. These role models exhibit traits and behaviours that children can aspire to emulate, fostering a strong sense of self.
But also, for young girls to see men, hold up women as equals in the workplace, to respect them in the home, to be heard, validated and take a women’s roles into account builds self-worth and role-models what it looks like for men and women to work together and not against each other. It is important to note that as adults in the world, we role model constantly to all children what to expect from each other. By positive male role models nurturing young girls’ ambitions, these role models help break down societal barriers and norms that historically restricted women’s involvement in leadership roles. Their support validates girls’ potential and sends a powerful message: that everyone, regardless of gender, deserves an equal chance to lead.
To truly achieve gender equality, we must enlist boys as allies in the fight against gender-based violence. By educating boys about consent, respect, and healthy relationships, we equip them to challenge harmful behaviours and attitudes. Teaching boys to be allies empowers them to recognize injustice and contribute to creating a society where everyone can live free from violence and discrimination.
Incorporating discussions about gender equality and gender-based violence into educational curricula is vital. By raising awareness from a young age, we can help boys understand the importance of treating all individuals with respect, regardless of gender. These discussions can also provide boys with the tools they need to navigate complex social situations and be advocates for change.
Gender-based violence affects individuals of all genders. Male survivors often face unique challenges, including societal disbelief and stigma. Supporting male survivors means acknowledging their experiences, providing safe spaces for them to share their stories, and ensuring that they have access to resources for healing and recovery.
Gender equality and women’s rights is a collective goal that benefits everyone. To create a society free from gender-based violence and discrimination, we must remember that the fight extends to boys as well. By challenging harmful stereotypes, providing education, and fostering a culture of respect and empathy, we can create an environment where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and contribute positively to society. In our pursuit of gender equality, let’s ensure that we uplift and empower boys to be part of the solution alongside girls, building a brighter future for everyone.
Written by Danielle Moosajie (Director)
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