‘Because I Am Girl – So, What about Boys’?

Human Wrongs Watch

‘In too many societies girls still face the double discrimination of being young and being female. They are pulled out of school, married early, and are more likely to be subject to violence.’

Teenage girl from Mauritania. Image: Ferdinand Reus | Wikimedia Commons

This is not only unjust; it is also short-sighted.The 500 million adolescent girls and young women in developing countries are potentially a major force in driving economic progress,” says this year’s report ‘Because I am Girl’ published by Plan, which assesses the state of the world’s girls.

While women and children are recognised in policy and planning, girls’ particular needs and rights are often ignored, says Plan, an international NGO founded 70 years ago working in 50 developing countries to promote child rights.

But the challenge of gender equality cannot be tackled by girls and women alone – which brings us back to boys and men. Fathers, husbands, brothers and boyfriends all have their part to play, and this year’s report will demonstrate how and why men and boys can, and should, contribute to creating a more equal society.”

What about Boys?

The following are excerpts from Plan’s report which reminds that boys too are affected by poverty, discrimination and lack of opportunity in many parts of the world. It presents clear evidence that:

Gender equality is good for boys too

Fathers who care promote their own happiness and that of their sons and daughters

To bring about change we need to start at the beginning with the family and the school.

Education at all ages and stages is key.

Why Should Boys and Young Men Care?

According to Plan’s report:

1. Girls’ and women’s rights are human rights. If men and boys believe in justice and fairness, they will be able to see that their mothers, sisters and girlfriends are often not treated the same way as they are, do not enjoy the same level of respect in the community, and do not have the same opportunities to make choices about their lives.

2. Greater gender equality will help boys to succeed in school, to be comfortable with their own identity, to be confident in expressing emotions and to be equipped with the skills to build positive relationships of mutual trust and respect.

3. Gender equality has often meant more freedom for girls and women to define themselves in new ways, but little corresponding change for boys and men. A new perspective on gender is about a more productive way of viewing power relationships to the benefit of both sexes.

Key Findings

For this year’s report Plan commissioned primary research with 12 to 18 year olds in several different countries, including the UK, Rwanda and India.

There are variations from country to country but the overarching conclusion must be that our families and schools are handing gender inequality, and violence against girls, down through the generations.

65 per cent of participants from India and Rwanda totally or partially agreed with the statement ‘A woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together’. A further 43 per cent agreed with the statement: ‘There are times when a woman deserves to be beaten.’

• ‘Changing diapers, giving kids a bath and feeding kids are the mother’s responsibility.’ 67 per cent of boys and 71 per cent of girls in Rwanda agreed, as did 83 per cent of boys and 87 per cent of girls in India.

Plan’ survey showed, however, that children are actually happier when they see their parents sharing household responsibilities (e.g. when dads cook and do the laundry, both parents make decisions and when their mums spend their time in and out of home).

Over 60 per cent of children interviewed in India for this report agreed that ‘if resources are scarce it is better to educate a boy instead of a girl’.

Male Violence Towards Women

Men in power, both at an institutional and family level, can help change girls’ lives. But some of the men we interviewed for this year’s report were concerned that they and their sons might lose out if gender equality were to be realised.

One of the most destructive aspects of inequality between the sexes – the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior – fuels male violence towards them.

So too does the notion that ‘real men’ are tough and hard and that the only appropriate emotion for them to display is anger.

This does not just harm women and girls, it also damages men and boys. Concepts of ‘traditional’ masculinities force them to behave in ways that make them uncomfortable.

They may not dare to express their emotions, or they may experience violence themselves and then take it out on others.

The “Good Father”

A father’s role is crucially important. How he treats his wife and daughters will limit or enhance their potential and choices in life. But it will make a difference to his sons too.

A father who does his fair share of domestic work, who values and educates his children equally, who cuddles his sons and daughters and treats his wife as an equal too will have a powerful impact on how his son grows to be a man and treats his own family.

Being an involved and responsive father is good for both fathers and their children. Research has shown that:

Men who are positively engaged in the lives of their children or stepchildren are less likely to be depressed, to commit suicide or to be violent.

Boys with more involved fathers are less likely to take part in risky sexual behaviour and are more likely to start having sex at a later age.

Boys who grow up around positive male role models are more likely to question gender inequities and harmful stereotypes, says the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A study of American, Australian, Colombian, Indian, Palestinian and South African 14 year olds found that adolescents who are well connected with their parents – who feel understood, are cared for and get along with their parents – have more social

initiative, fewer thoughts about suicide and less depression.

Counting The Cost

In countries of the North and in Latin America and Caribbean, boys are now dropping out of school at a faster rate than girls. They are also doing less well academically. For example, in the US, the average grade-point average in high school is 3.09 for girls and 2.86 for boys.

Young men have [among] the highest rates of death by traffic accidents, suicide and violence, all of which are related to the way that they are socialised to be men. In Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia and some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, more young men die in these ways than in countries at war.

In Western Europe, these external causes make up more than 60 per cent of mortality among boys and young men up to the age of 24.5

The World Health Organisation estimates that in the Americas the risk of dying from homicide if you are a young man between the ages of 15 and 29 is almost 28 times greater than the average risk worldwide.

In Brazil, the 2000 census found that there were nearly 200,000 fewer men than women aged between 15 and 29 because of higher rates of mortality.

Young men also have higher rates of alcohol and substance use. A national survey of young men aged 15 to19 in the US found that young men who adhered to traditional views of manhood were more likely to engage in substance use, violence and delinquency and unsafe sexual practices.

Young men are less likely to visit a doctor or a clinic or to seek information about their health – as a result, 60 per cent of men and boys aged 15 to 24 do not have accurate and comprehensive knowledge about HIV and how to avoid transmission.

Read Plan full reporthttp://plan-international.org/files/global/publications/campaigns/biaag-11-sum-EN.pdf

2011 Human Wrongs Watch

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