ONE ELDERLY woman was heard rebuking a young girl, saying, ‘Iwe, tawakwata mano. Uyu mwaume, ulemuchindika.’ (You silly girl, this is a boy, you must respect him). This is a true encounter and our good lady here was busy admonishing this poor girl for standing up to a boy of her age. Mind you, this was a school environment and the two children were just playing, trying to outdo each in words. However, this lady saw something wrong with the girl. Hereis my bone of contention: because the girl was trying to contend with her classmate, she was considered to be disrespectful to her peer.

This article is written in the backdrop that we are Africans and our society has raised the boy and girl child to be of different worth. With all respect to different Zambian cultures, I’m well aware that many customs place a boy on a higher pedestal than a girl. Until recently, many parents would send a boy to school and leave the girl at home. This is with the assumption that the boy would learn some skills after school while the girl is reserved for marriage. In villages a boy would leave the family house earlier than a girl of the same age. In a sense, the African boy is considered a breadwinner to provide for his wife-to-be. Even in many religions – Jewish/Christianity, Islam and others, males were held in higher value than females. So the problem hasn’t started with you!

If we are to go back to our story above, the woman rebuking the girl for standing up to a boy is a typical African woman who believes that a girl must be subservient to a boy. This anomaly has been taken up even in our everyday life, even in adulthood when men marry. In many African cultures, it’s disrespectful for a young person, let alone a woman, to say ‘No’ to a man. In homes men tend to superintend over their wives. It’s plain and simple: we have more men in politics than women, even when women outnumber us. And the policies men make are more likely to benefit men than they would women. Watch any African movie and see what I’m talking about. A man would be seen to be talking down to his wife and the poor woman would cower down, if not sobbing. This is what tradition has brought us to believe: that a man is above the woman. Then watch a Western movie, you’ll see that a man and a woman would be talking as equals. In western cultures, for example, children are taught early to question authority. Look at the way British MPs grill the Prime Minster! In Africa, that’s undoable!

It’s time our girls started to be assertive and say ‘No’ to male chauvinism.

Note that there’s danger in perpetuating the imbalance of power of boy over girl. If we are to teach the girl child that she’s to be subservient to a boy, we shall produce an unfair society where boys would feel that they can do anything to a girl.17% of girls drop out of school every year because of some of the issues above. As boys grow into men and marry, they carry with them this ‘bossy’ ego of domineering over their spouses. The result? Rocky marriages that lead to gender based violence and sometimes divorce, putting children in harms way.

Over the years I have worked with parents and children, some of the stories I have picked from them on child sexual abuse stem from this disjointed belief that males can demand anything from females.

What then can we do to change the scenario? The following are a few efforts we can put in place to provide an equitable environment for children:

1: Treat all children equally. At home, in schools and all places of worship and public places children should be shown the same dignity and respect, regardless of gender.

2:Have a close and loving relationship with both boys and girls in the home.

3: Let both boys and girls do the same chores in the home.

4: Be a good role model and lead by example. Treat your wife the way you would like your son treat his future wife.

5: Speak out against bad vices against the girl child.

6: Join efforts with interest groups that champion equality of children.

A society were boys and girls grow up as equals is a society where everyone will reach their full potential.

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