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What is the future for the girl-child in Africa? Part 2

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Picture: REUTERS/Wonderful Hunkonnu A girl braids hair in Iwaya, one of the poorest areas of Lagos in this undated photograph taken by a child, part of an exhibition in which hundreds of Nigerian kids from the richest and poorest homes in Lagos have documented their lives through pictures.

By Dr Wallace Mgoqi

Indeed, all of us are in a kind of informal partnership with our family first, and then our community and nation. After all the individual is the microcosm of society, then the family and the community. The institutions of a community or a nation, in turn, are the means by which individuals are shaped and moulded in their characters and personalities – in the nature-nurture dynamics of life.

This truth stared me in the face when during the course of my tenure as a Gender Commissioner, we were invited by Professor Gertrude Fester, also a former Gender Commissioner but now teaching at the Sol Plaatjie University in Kimberley.

The reason for the call to the Gender Commission to intervene, was the ongoing internecine conflict between men and women students on campus. At the very first meeting as we listened to both sides, it became clear that at the heart of the problem lay the patriarchal, old-fashioned, misogynistic attitudes of men, coming from far-flung, rural and traditional communities. Up until they came to university, they were being taught that the woman’s place was “in the kitchen“, whereas the young women students were principally coming from an urban, modern environment, believing that a woman’s place is “in the revolution”. These two positions were bound to clash, as each was vying, if not for its survival, then certainly for dominance.

It became crystal clear to me that the poor young male students had been crippled in their youth and not adequately prepared for the world they were going to live in the future; they carried with them the baggage of these negative attitudes about their perceptions of women, which drew the ire of these young, highly motivated women, who saw their current and future roles vastly differently from those of their male counterparts – internecine conflict was inevitable.

As a Gender Commission, we resolved that what was needed was the introduction of Gender 101, as an educational tool to assist both sides find ways of coping with the realities of modern life, instead of fighting. The situation required some kind of mediation of interests, rather than insistence on rights, which was adversarial, yielding limited results, in the immediate-, medium- and long-term.

It also dawned on me that the intervention, however sharp it might be, came rather late in the lives of these young souls, as their characters and personalities were already solidly formed and would be difficult to change.

The attitudes we acquire as we grow up, form part of us, we find difficult to change.

That is the reason that, when in conflict, we see the other as the one who needs to change, not ourselves. In our own eyes we are always perfect, it is the other person who needs to change, not us.

Giving advice on this matter Alexander Baxter has this to say: “ learn how to weigh yourself … Weigh and weigh, and weigh yourself, in all you think, and in all you say and all you do, you find yourself do, you find yourself wanting. Be sure there is something wrong with the balances or scale; all the weights are not in, or there is some hidden rust in the hinges, or you have not read the index right, or something, if you do not find yourself wanting. If you are satisfied with yourself any one day, be sure there is a fatal mistake somewhere. Be sure that a dreadful awakening awaits you, if you think that all things are fairly well with you “.

These are the attitudes the young black male students bring onto campus, hardly even realising that they are on a university campus, named after one of the most progressive icons of our struggle, who sacrificed everything for the benefit of us all, especially the African girl-child, precisely because of their vulnerability, in society.

So where does the solution lie, in guaranteeing the future of the girl-child, in this country, in Africa and the world?

There is empirical evidence, in psychological research, to prove that those who are inducted early enough in life in their understanding of gender roles, cope much better in life than those who are inducted late or never at all. The latter struggle in their relations with the opposite sex, from courting to marriage, in the work environment, and in life in general, where they have to interact with members of the opposite sex, and it cuts both ways.

Just as males struggle without appropriate role models where they grow up in a single mum’s home, where there is no male figure, so do women struggle in relating to the opposite sex where they too have grown up in a home there is only one parent – conflict is inevitable. Many a marriage relationship has hit the rocks for this very reason.

Orientation in gender equality and equity is a matter to be introduced in young people’s lives as early as they can learn how to communicate, so that they grow with it as continuing education, beyond adulthood. It is for this reason that those who bring children into the world have a humongous responsibility to ensure that each of them is going to play his/her role in inducting, mentoring and coaching the child, in the ways of the world and not abandon them to fend for themselves – swim or sink, as it were.

It is a great disservice to any child when that happens and causes a wound in their soul, which goes with them wherever they go. It may even damage their sense of identity. Little wonder then that some young men become so bitter against society, turning their rage firstly, against those closest to them, their mothers and siblings, and become serial killers, now swelling the ranks of those in our Maximum Security prisons all over the country. As men, we must know that each time we turn our backs on a child, boy or girl, a potential tsotsi (social deviant) is born that day.

The late Father Trevor Huddleston warned that: “a tsotsi ( a social deviant/criminal ) is nothing else but a symbol of a society which does not care“.

Is this the harvest we want to bring into society? If not, we must then never turn our backs on any child we have brought into this world under any circumstances. We must know that we are sowing wind and we will reap a whirlwind.

The idiom “the chickens have come home to roost” is normally used to mean that the bad things that someone has done in the past have come back to bite or haunt the individual. This is the rage that we see characterising relations between young men and the fathers who abandoned them. They take it out on innocent members of society in senseless killings we witness every other day. Only the sacred writer could put it so beautifully: “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it. And he that rolleth a stone, it shall return upon his head”.

The words of Charles Stewart Mott are again apt to conclude this matter: “We recognise that our obligation to fellow men does not stop at the boundaries of the community. In an even larger sense, every man is in partnership with the rest of the human race in the eternal conquest which we call civilisation “.

May we all commit to creating a better, safer, rights-based, more secure environment for the girl-child, one free from gender oppression, gender inequality, rid of patriarchy, and misogyny, in our country, South Africa, on the Continent of Africa as well as the world at large.

Mgoqi is the chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.