EMPOWERING BOYS FOR GENDER EQUALITY: CHILD PROTECTION WEEK FOCUSES ON POSITIVE MASCULINITY

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By Precious Mupenzi

  • The Department of Social Development (DSD) organised the “Boys Championing Change Dialogue” in Margate, KwaZulu-Natal, from 17-19 May 2024, to educate boys and young men on gender equality and their role in empowering girls and young women.
  • The boys were mentored on self-awareness, personal values, behavioural change, mental health, leadership, and coping skills, with activities designed to encourage open discussion and personal growth.
  • This initiative, a collaboration between the DSD and Zomnotho Community Development, highlighted the emotional struggles of fatherlessness and the need for support systems to help young boys navigate these challenges and become advocates for positive change.

Children in South Africa live in a society with a Constitution that highly regards their rights, equality, and dignity. While significant progress has been made in empowering young girls, the inclusion of boys and young men in the journey towards gender equality remains crucial. 

In this context, from 17-19 May 2024, the Department of Social Development (DSD) organised the “Boys Championing Change Dialogue” in Margate, KwaZulu-Natal, bringing together one hundred boys and young men from Ingwemabala High School, Makhanda High School, and KwaMadlala Youth. This three-day initiative aimed to educate participants on gender equality and their role in promoting the empowerment of girls and young women.

The boys were mentored on various topics including self-awareness, personal values, positive masculinity, behavioural change, mental health, leadership, and coping skills. The dialogues featured a range of activities designed to encourage open discussion, such as aerobics, candlelight confessions, and one-on-one engagements.

This initiative was a collaboration between the DSD and Zomnotho Community Development, a non-profit organisation founded by a group of young individuals dedicated to youth development. Their mission is to empower young men and women.

Young boys and men engaged six months after South Africa hosted the 3rd African Union Men’s Conference on Positive Masculinity. During the conference, various African leaders committed to accelerating the empowerment of young boys and men to address the social ills affecting the continent. Many of these issues arise from misconceptions about positive masculinity.

At this gathering, which brought together African leaders, gender experts, civil society organisations, and scholars from across the continent, President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised the importance of initiatives that create platforms for both young and older men to discuss and redefine notions of masculinity.

The Boys Championing Change Dialogue reflects the DSD’s commitment to fostering gender equality and creating a supportive environment for boys and young men to thrive as advocates for positive change.

Bongumusa Zulu, a recovering service user and founder of the Para to Paradise non-profit organisation, was one of the motivational speakers who shared his deeply personal journey. He recounted his struggles, including multiple stints in jail and dropping out of school due to substance abuse.

“I started smoking at just 12 years old, influenced by peer pressure in primary school. I committed countless crimes in my community and surrounding areas—stealing from people and shops, hijacking cars—all to fund my addiction to alcohol and drugs,” he shared.

Zulu’s heartfelt advice to the boys was to choose their friends wisely, listen to and respect their parents, and focus on their studies.

“I come from a good family background. All my siblings went to school and are now working, but I chose a fast life that led me to jail. Today, I bear the burden of a criminal record and a disrupted education. I wish I could go back and make better choices. The least I can do now is to share my story with you, hoping you do not fall into the same trap as I did.”

Zulu also revealed that he has been clean for two years and continues to attend support groups after his time in a rehabilitation centre.

During the session, Pakamile Maluleka, a 17-year-old, courageously shared his personal story.

“I grew up without a father; I do not know him. My mother told me he left us when I was just two months old. I have never experienced a father’s love and deeply yearned for it,” Pakamile revealed, his voice tinged with both pain and longing.

“I am surrounded by friends and cousins who talk about their fathers, and it makes me yearn for that connection. I have so much anger inside me. My dream is to become a soldier so I can channel my anger into something I am passionate about. My mother has done an incredible job raising me, and I appreciate her deeply, but there is still a void in my heart where a father should be,” said the Grade 10 learner.

Khulekani Cele, a 16-year-old participant, echoed Pakamile’s sentiments. Joined by several other boys, Khulekani spoke about the loneliness they often feel due to absent fathers.

“This absence triggers our behaviour and builds anger inside us,” he admitted, highlighting a common struggle among young boys grappling with the emotional void left by missing paternal figures.

The session stressed the profound impact of fatherlessness on young boys, revealing deep-seated emotions and the urgent need for support systems to help them navigate these challenges. The stories shared by Pakamile, Khulekani, and their peers shed light on the critical issues faced by many young boys, emphasising the importance of initiatives that address their emotional needs and help them find constructive outlets for their feelings.

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