Most boys like to compete and this can be used to our advantage when we are trying to get them to do school or domestic work
By Sharon E. Ahumuza
Children are home for a long holiday. As we work towards strengthening families, I would like to draw our attention on the need to train our boys to become responsible men for tomorrow.
In Uganda, most of the communities have clearly spelt out but not written down gendered roles and expectations. Girls are groomed to become responsible women or wives. This involves teaching them what it means to be a ‘woman' what they should do or not do, how to behave, dress and how to conduct themselves in society. Unfortunately, little is done to groom boys to become responsible men/husbands.
Thinking through the roles that boys and girls are expected to do at family and community level, most parents and community leaders can easily and clearly mention the role expectations for the girl child, whereas the role expectations for the boy child remains unclear.
Examples of the roles for the girl child often mentioned include; cooking food, serving food, fetching water, cleaning homesteads, washing utensils, washing clothes, caring for the young siblings and generally complementing the mother in ‘care her work' including taking care of the sick.
The care roles assigned to girls often imply that she will be absent from school or drops out of school, limiting her future opportunities and contribution to self, family and society. In some cultures, married women are expected to build family houses, do all the gardening to ensure availability of food for the household, care for children and all household members and the list can go on and on.
As girls grow they are socialized to take on such roles together with their mothers or mother figures. Many people perceive the endless lists of expectations and roles to be played by the girl child as an intention to train her to become a responsible woman in marriage.
Through various community engagement activities and observations in communities it seems that most communities do not have a lot spelt out for the boy child. The commonly mentioned role for boys is taking care of the animals especially in rural areas even when there are no animals in a home. In Urban areas where animals do not exist, there is little or nothing left for boys to do. As a result, boys have a lot of time to engage in leisure activities - some destructive while girls struggle with domestic work and suffer from time poverty.
It is assumed that the moment the boy child becomes a man, gets married or becomes a father; he is expected to play the so called ‘roles of men' which include paying school fees for children, paying for health care bills, buying food, paying rent among others. However, with more and more women entering formal employment and taking on some of these roles, this reality is gradually changing. Instead of men seeing this as an opportunity for men and women to complement each other in meeting family needs, some men have abandoned their responsibility of providing for their families.
In such instances women struggle with both domestic work and providing for their families. The questions that remain in one's mind are; who is responsible to training the boy child to become a responsible man? When is the boy child supposed to learn what is expected of him? How come it is only the girl child expected to do almost all the work at home? Who determines and who is maintaining the social norms that seem to be so much demanding for the girl child/woman and less demanding for the boy child/man? I keep hearing many people asking such questions; where have the good men gone? What is going on with men of today? Why have some men abandoned their responsibility as providers and heads of families?
Some of the reasons for the above undesired situations in our societies today relate to the changes such as increasing and unregulated urbanization with related social ills like options for boys and men to spend time playing cards, video games, sports betting as well as easy access to alcohol. All these seem easy options to pass time than working hard to earn a living and take on family responsibilities. There are instances of role reversal where some married men abandon their ‘families' and return to their parents. Surprisingly parents have welcomed their sons back home forgetting that they are now husbands/fathers.
Here are some suggestions on how we can help our boys to become responsible men.
Allow boys to compete: Most boys like to compete and this can be used to our advantage when we are trying to get them to do school or domestic work. Unfortunately, most children nowadays are being taught that everyone deserves a "trophy" instead of training them always to do their best. Some opportunities for competition include team sports, field days, contests, science fair and any sort of competition in an area of his choice. Even competition with siblings can be positive for boys. Give your son a chance to compete and watch him push himself to excel.
Give boys responsibilities early enough: Make your son in charge of certain tasks including those at home. Do not let girls break with all domestic work while boys do nothing. There will be a time when boys will have to leave on their own. Explore their passions: Encourage them to at least try out doing certain things. If our boys never try anything new, they will not find out what they are really passionate about.
Support boys to face and overcome their fears: When you find something that your son fears, support him to face it and overcome his fear. This can only be possible if you are available.
Model a hero in your son: Whenever possible, allow your son to come to your rescue. When you have a bug/rat/cockroach/sugar-ant in the house, always call out for your son to come and help. It is a great practice for him to come to the aid of someone in distress.
Help your son to identify a life champion: Your son needs a person he admires and looks up to. This can be the father, other relative/ father figure in your network or society. These are important in instilling the values such as respect for others especially for girls and women, being gentle, polite, hard work, time keeping, faithfulness among others. When they make mistakes understand and correct them. This is a great way for them to internalize the values they have been taught. Be available to supervise and provide guidance: As parents, we have numerous opportunities to raise our sons to be responsible men in their families and communities. The best way to teach responsibility is to be present in the lives of our sons and be role models.
Help your son to put God first: This is the most important thing you can do for your son and his future family. Helping your son to believe, trust and depend on God is crucial to his future development as a man. My prayer for all parents during this long holiday is that we can take part and interest in raising responsible boys who will be responsible men/husbands tomorrow.
Let us leave no boy child behind for a better Uganda.
Writer is a child protection and gender specialist