By ERIC Mungai
In many African societies, the social development structures and spaces traditionally responsible for teaching young men and boys positive masculinities and reinforcing constructive attitudes and behaviours have faced significant challenges and continue to do so. This breakdown has had far-reaching consequences for the well-being and development of young males. We delve into these concerns, exploring the impact on the three paramount pillars of male development: Acceptance, Adoration, and Approval – every tribe, tradition and culture has followed these three stages and pillars to develop its young men and prepare them for the responsibility of service and communal purpose.
The Challenge: A Breakdown of Traditional Social Structures
Africa has a rich tapestry of cultural and social traditions that have historically guided the transition from boyhood to manhood. However, the past few decades have witnessed a significant disruption of these structures due to urbanisation, globalisation, and changing societal norms. With limited access to these traditional rites of passage, many young men and boys find themselves adrift in their journey toward manhood.
Acceptance: The Loss of Rite of Passage
A marked decline in traditional initiation rituals has left a void in the acceptancepillar. Young boys, no longer guided through formal rites of passage, struggle to find their place in society, their identity and purpose.
What is my Agency? Am I accepted?
Various studies on human development suggests that the absence of these rituals, transitional events can lead to identity crises, with some boys resorting to negative or antisocial behaviours in search of identity – which in todays connected world are everywhere we turn.
Adoration: The Missing Mentorship
With the breakdown of traditional structures, the role of mentors and elders in guiding young males diminished. With the prevailing mindset that boys will figures things out; but they won’t! And if they do figure things out alone, chance are majority of them slip into the hellish world of negative, dangerous ideals of masculinity.
The lack of mentorship means that majority of our African boys lack the adoration and respect that would traditionally come from those who have walked the path before them – the wise, strong and intelligent Sages of old; men who adore their unique abilities, see them and call them out. Without role models, the search for positive masculinities becomes more challenging, and boys look to alternative sources for guidance.
Approval: The Struggle for Validation
Nothing is more lacking in our present society than Validation. We search for it in our friends, family and community. Our young boys join criminal gangs and get involved in dangerous vices just to receive ‘Validation’.
The validation of competence and character through positive approval from strong male models has also suffered. In a society with changing norms and values, young men and boys face ambiguity in defining what it means to be a respected man. The lack of clear standards and approval mechanisms lead to insecurity and confusion – and a need to demand for it from their community. Violent masculinities, gender based abuse (financial, emotional, physical, mental) are all driven by a need to ‘feel like a Man’ and receive validation from others.
We have failed to define who and what a man is in todays society, away from norms and roles.
Solutions: Fostering Positive Masculinities in a Changing World
To address these concerns, there is a need for innovative solutions:
- Mentorship Programs: Creating mentorship programs within communities to fill the void left by the decline in traditional mentorship. Elders, teachers, coaches, friends, clergy and older community members can provide guidance and adoration to young males – creating spaces where positive ideals are taught and practiced. Engaging boys on positive activities; sports, art, music, theatre, innovation, entrepreneurship, agriculture and climate concerns.
- Positive Role Models: Promoting the visibility of positive role models through media and educational programs is key in helping boys identify with and aspire to positive masculinities – while ensuring a strong masculine foundation for the development of positive transformative ideals of masculinity.
- Community-Based Approvals: Developing community-based mechanisms for validating competence and character provide young men with a sense of approval and belonging and help them find healthier ways to define what it means to be a man in todays world.
By understanding these challenges and working towards innovative solutions is vital for nurturing positive masculinities and fostering healthy development for young men and boys in the changing landscapes of Africa – especially because the threats of violence, civil unrest, poverty and disease continue to tear at our fabric in unimaginable ways.
Addressing these concerns, is a step towards building a brighter future for the continent’s youth, one that values and supports their journey to adulthood and a dignified life.
Our models of development, respond to these challenges and offer guidance, support and a framework towards ensuring that our young men and boys find purpose and meaning in todays world as they define their identity.
Our mandate is big, but urgent if our children are to live happy, secure and dignified lives.
With a youthful population boom, we must be prepared for the gender dynamics that will arise as we continue to grow and develop as a society, ‘Leave No One Behind’.
To attain gender equity we must ensure the foundations are strong, rich and deep if we are to ensure we don’t reverse the gains for women and/or propagate the inequality by turning it towards one gender.
By Eric Mungai
Boys Development Specialist, Developing Cognitive, Emotional, Social Intelligence, & Personal Resilience in Men.
Youth Development Specialist & Founder of Yazua Afrika