Friday, October 11, 2013

What Happens When You Ask a Group of Young Men About Their Dreams and Aspirations For The Girl-Children in Their Lives?

Today is the International Day of The Girl Child. Established by the United Nations last year, it is a day that seeks to shed light on the unique challenges girls face around the world-and in the process, end discrimination, gender stereotypes, violence, and economic and social disparities that disproportionately affect girls.

In commemorating today, I decided to explore the critical role young men can play in the lives of girl-children, in order to create a more equitable, inclusive, and peaceful society.

Deborah and Keyanna. Image from Deborah Dauda
As a home-grown Naija girl, I’ve been fortunate to have some positive male role models in my life- many of which were my older cousin’s boyfriends who were pursuing their higher education, playing in bands or just looking so cool! I’ve also been fortunate to have step-fathers who love me unconditionally, encourage me and most importantly- believe in me; even when I gave up believing in myself. The relationships I developed with these men contributed to my confidence in the classroom and on stage. For that, I’m grateful.

In preparation for this piece, I had a discussion with six young African-American males between the ages of 18 and 23-asking them about their dreams and aspirations for the girl-children in their lives (biological and otherwise), and the steps they’ll take to help these girls achieve those dreams.

In order to get their creative juices flowing, me and my co-facilitator, Keyanna Leblue decorated the table with fruits (guavas, oranges, plums and bananas) and of course- Doritos chips and Tostitos dips. This definitely got them excited, and helped maintained the flow of the session.

To begin, I asked each participant “If you have a girl-child in your life, whether it’s a daughter, a cousin, a niece or a neighbor, what would be your dreams and aspirations for her”?

In essence, all participants want girls to be successful in every aspects of their lives, “going after their dreams”, while they (the young men) serve as a [guide] and a support system, and providing unconditional love. However, some participants specifically envision the girls in their lives to be lawyers and great sportswomen.  We then asked the participants asked how they would help each girl achieve the successes they proposed earlier, and they suggested that by serving as a positive role model, teaching through life examples, and “Keep[ing] her up on games”. According to these young men, teaching girls about “street games” (language, culture and attitudes) will help girls navigate, and better decipher “what are good versus bad” relationships, and how to avoid them- raising concern for their security and safety.

Importantly, noting the critical role that the media plays in shaping the consciousness of young girls, participants agreed that they will ensure that girls stay away from these negative stereotypes and develop their own self-identity and “mind-set”.  In light of the recent Miley Cyrus saga, participants were concerned about the music industry’s objectification of women, citing that “Girls don’t have to show their bodies to kick it or feel [empowered].”

When asked how each participant will prepare themselves to serve as a wherewithal in each girls lives, they cited the correlation and effects of parental education attainment (especially mother’s level of education) on the schooling of girls, and thus suggested that in order to be in the position to serve, and empower, “I” need to better myself, so as not to be an hypocrite”.

In observing the International Day of the Girl Child, we need to take advantages of already established social frameworks, while strengthening and conscientizing the environment that nurtures and supports the girl-child.