I recently had a heated discussion with a close friend of mine, who is very vocal in the youth movement. She accused me on focusing too much on the girl child and forgetting about the boy child.
“He too is suffering,” she said.
“I know that, but the girl child is in a worse situation. Women in Africa are in a worse situation, surely you can not disagree with that” I tried to explain.
“Of course I know that, I am a woman…” she retorted. I began getting the feeling that the conversation was taking a more personal tone.
“Then if you know that, what are we arguing about?” I asked.
“I recognize that there is a problem, but by concern is how you are trying to handle the problem. Empowering the girl child and the woman is vital, in fact I think it is a matter of life and death, and I support that. You know I am willing to cut off my foot to prove that,” She said, I rolled my eyes, she was always dramatic when trying to explain her points.
“But I think that the boy child should be empowered as well,” she continued. “Someone needs to change his mentality, let him learn that despite traditions and culture there is nothing different between him and his sister, well, other that the biological details, but you get my point. Let him learn from an early age to respect a woman and not to undermine her. If this is done then we can be sure to win the gender campaign sooner rather than later.”
I looked at her, and she noticed that she had got my attention. She had a strong point. I made a mental note to think more about this.
“Another thing, are you aware that the boy child also experiences hardship. I mean, there are cases where the boy child is really suffering, why is everyone ignoring him?” she asks.
“He is not ignored,” I eventually found my voice. “But you have to understand that the African society is patriarchal in nature. That means that the structures exist in such a manner, that it is easier for the boy-child to survive the different hardships he might be forced to face as opposed to the girl child. In most cases, the boy has the chance to live his dream, it might be hard for him to begin with, but as life goes on, he has a chance of living his life. On the other hand, the girl child does not have this luxury. It is easier to sacrifice her dreams for the sake of what the patriarchal society views to be more important.”
She slowly nodded; she knew I had a point as well. We each turned our attention at the two cups of coffee at the table, which by now had gone cold.
That evening in the comfort of my warm blanket, I thought of the boy child, the man and the gender campaign. Yes, there might be a need for women to redefine the gender campaign. Not in terms of the goal we want to achieve, but in terms of the strategies. Involve the boy from an early age; mould his thinking as opposed to trying to change his thinking after he is already a man. The latter is difficult and takes time. We do not want the next generation to be fighting the same war.
Anyway I decided to write this story for the rural boy child. Just to let him know, that I know what he is going through as well.
He quickly throws down his bundle of books, removes the only pair of uniform he has, and neatly but hurriedly folds it away. He is not going to wash them; washing will only make them wear out faster. The school uniform is only washed once a week, or when it is visibly dirty. He goes out to the shed and picks up his guiding stick. It is a hot afternoon and he has to go out and graze the three cows they have.
He is the first born of the family and the man of the house. His father is dead, died of some disease. He does not know much about this disease; they told him it is called HIV and AIDS. He wonders which killed him.
They told him he is too young to be told more, that he will learn more of this disease when he grew older.
He does not feel the loss of his father, after all he barely knew him. He saw him once a month or sometimes once in three months. Mother told him father is a busy man, he works in the big city and sends them money, but now father is dead, and he is left with five siblings. He is only thirteen but he is the eldest and the man of the house.
He grabs his guiding stick and runs to the field. He has to release his mother from her morning shift. They take turns. His mother grazes the cattle in the morning while he is at school, and in the afternoon he takes over.
He can’t afford to take afternoon classes. His mother has to go and look for food for their evening meal, which will also be their breakfast. See now, they can’t afford to have all three, or four, or five meals in a day. He has a younger sister who is eleven years old, she is in charge of the house and the siblings when the mother and the brother are out, which is, the whole day.
In the evening he guides the cattle back to the worn out shed, battered by the years it has seen and the harsh weather. See, they inherited the farm from his grandparents.
He drags himself into the house. Supper is ready. He makes sure his siblings have eaten first, “they are young,” he says, “They need the food more”. It is only then that he eats. He is a good brother.
After everyone has gone to sleep he grabs the only kerosene lamp they have and goes to a corner. Careful not to disturb his sleeping siblings with the light. He brings it closer to the pages; he has to remind himself what he had been taught that morning.
The boy has a dream and believes in struggling to achieve that dream, he believes he is the only hope for the family; he believes he is the man of the house.
As he blows out the lamp after reading, and crawls on to his bed, a worn out mattress on the floor he considers himself lucky. He knows there are those worse than him.