An Open Letter on Boys and Gender Equality

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It’s not just about teaching boys that girls are equal to them, it’s about teaching them that they are also equal to girls. I want to provide an outlet for the boys to express themselves and encourage them to stand up for and to stand with girls.

For the past ten weeks, I’ve had the privilege of working as a Girl Impact intern in Livingstone, Zambia. Although I’ve enjoyed all of the different Girl Impact projects, the 6th grade Boys Club has been my favorite.

The members of the Boys Club are special. There’s a wide range of personality types, backgrounds, and stages of adolescence, yet they all share an extreme eagerness to learn. Up until now, the boys’ group has been given the same curriculum as the girls. The girls AGEP program has been fine for the boys, most of it is relevant and applicable, but it was not enough.

These boys deserve a curriculum that recognizes the specific needs and realities of boys. They deserve a curriculum that makes them question and critically reflect on their views of gender norms, adolescence, and what it means to be a young man of the world and more so, a young man of Zambia.

So, that’s what I’ve set out to do; create a curriculum that allows young men to question traditional views about manhood and engage in discussions about gender equality, health promotion, and gender-based violence prevention. I want to provide an outlet for the boys to express themselves and encourage them to stand up for and to stand with the girls in their communities.

This, of course, is easier said than done. The issue is, it’s not just about teaching boys that girls are equal to them, it’s about teaching them that they are also equal to girls.

So much of the content on gender equality is female-focused. The message that girls can be, do, wear, watch, play, and think anything that a boy can and is capable of is loud and strong. But, can the same be said for the boys?

We actively motivate girls to pursue their dreams of working in male-dominated fields. We teach girls how to code and encourage them to study STEM. We teach girls that they are no longer limited by their gender. Are we sending boys the same messages? Are we actively encouraging boys to pursue careers in nursing, teaching, or any other traditionally female-dominated fields?

Sadly, no. Boys are still constricted by traditional gender norms.

So much of the conversation with boys about gender norms has been telling them what not to do; how not to act and how not to feel. Instead of educating boys about the wonders of a gender-equitable world, we’re unintentionally instilling fear in them. Fear that they’ll say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question. We teach them that they are part of the problem, instead of part of the solution.

In order to truly teach gender equality, we need to include content that encourages gender neutrality. Instead of just teaching boys how to be a provider for their families, we need to teach them how to be caregivers.

It’s not about teaching boys how to be decent men, it’s about teaching them how to be decent people.

For all of those out there working with young boys, I encourage you to stop and examine the message your lessons are sending them. It should be about creating and strengthening positive and equal relations between and among boys and girls, in and across all contexts.

I urge you to make sure that you are doing your best to create an open and respectful environment in which boys can feel comfortable questioning, sharing, and learning from each other. Once this is achieved, true gender equality becomes possible.

What is the Girl Impact?

African Impact and African Impact Foundation created a joint partnership, The Girl Impact, to not only educate and empower young girls but give a voice to speak up for the rights as a girl. Working with girls, women, boys and men, we stand to create equality in 3 towns, 3 countries, and over 300 girls and boys. We seek to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals for Gender Equality, while our ‘6 Pillars’ consecutively address multiple other goals.

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