"I show boys pictures of a man cooking and a woman fixing a car, you should see their faces, but after a while, the message gets through." Allan is a 22-year-old young man from Uganda, a champion of gender equality, and this is a good news story.
We’re due for one right? With the media unleashing countless stories of men abusing power the tides are turning and tolerance for ‘boys will be boys’ is wearing thin.
We want to feel confident that we’re raising the next generation of boys to be allies. We want those boys to recognise the privilege but also the limitations that come with damaging stereotypes and power imbalances.
This is a global issue, and one that is felt particularly deeply in many countries that are also impacted by poverty, instability and violence.
In Uganda – a country that has seen great progress in overcoming poverty and instability – more than half of women have experienced gender-based violence. That’s an overwhelming statistic, but our Champions of Change program suggests, change is possible.
Allan, now 22, with his niece.
Supporting boys to be allies
"When I was 14, my sister became pregnant and had to stop going school. I found it so unfair." At just 16 years of age, Allan knew things had to change.
In 2016 Allan became one of Plan International Global’s youth activists. His activism has seen a positive change in his own family, as well as amongst his peers.
“Allan convinced me to let my daughter go back to school. You have no idea how proud I am of my daughters who have all graduated." Allen’s father Nkono has been deeply influenced by his son’s advocacy. With Allan’s influence, Nkono donated fertile land to his mother (in Uganda today, women don’t have the right to own land) and now contributes to the household chores.
It’s not just Uganda where this change is taking place. In Vietnam, 14-year-old T has seen a dramatic change in his own attitudes through Plan International’s Champions of Change program. T was described as ‘mischievous’ by both his parents and his teachers. His teacher convinced him to join the sessions so he would have less time to ‘tease other friends’.
The program gave T the chance to see his potential and how to be a positive friend and ally, rather than make fun of his peers.
‘I have gained confidence and self-esteem. I started to understand that participating into club activities is more helpful and also much more fun than teasing others. I have also made new friends in club who trust me and see my better sides, not as a black sheep.’
So what can we learn?
Champions of Change engages boys and girls to explore how their lives are affected and limited by gender based discrimination and social norms and how they can play a role in achieving gender equality. For boys, it’s a journey of self-reflection, one where they explore ideas about dominant masculinities and begin to recognise their unequal privileges and advantages. The boys focus on solidarity, being a young man, responsibility in regards to sexuality, nonviolence in personal relationships and committing to gender equality. They start to eliminate sexism in their own homes and relationships and invite their peers to do the same.
‘I learned I was showing solidarity and that I had it within me. But I never knew how to use it.’
‘This year during elections of prefects in the school we suggested we vote for a girl as the head prefect to show the society that also girls can lead. She won unlike last year when some teachers refused [to believe] that a girl could be a head prefect.’
‘First and foremost (I need to start with myself) it is me the boy. I should not use power over the girls by stepping on them.’
These are the reflections from boys in our program in Uganda. These are the voices of allies. It shows how important recognising the roles of self-esteem, identity and gender norms is in helping boys become advocates for gender equality. It shows that gender equality is within our reach globally and gives us the encouragement that we can do the same here with our kids in Australia too.
And Allan? He wants to bring about change at a national level. He’s currently advocating for improved sex education and health care in Uganda. "I do not intend to stop there. One day, I'll be a gender expert."
If you have your own tips for raising boys to be allies, let us know on social media.
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