Adolescents aged 10-19 years old constitute almost 20% of the South African population (STATS SA 2019). In 2016 71 births per 1000 women were amongst girls aged 15-19 years (South Africa Demographic of Health Survey). Childbearing in adolescence is widely known to impede schooling as 48.5% of adolescent mothers are to not be attending schools.
We, at AfrA Foundation, together with some bright young women have started discussing and brainstorming how we would address the pressing issue of teenage pregnancy in schools. The aim was to discuss a project called Healing Hearts/TeenSafe aimed at engaging young girls from Grade 6 upwards.
When taking into consideration our project and the statistics we however realized that there was one important component that still needed to be addressed, and that is boys/men. The main conclusion from our conversation is that the teenage pregnancy challenge is laid almost squarely at the feet of girls/women, they are the ones impacted the most (i.e. lost education, responsible for taking care of the child, etc.) but boys/men seem to evade engagement and responsibility. It is interesting to note that in 2018 981000 births were recorded in South Africa and 61% did not record a father’s name on their birth certificate.
The reality we are faced with is unless we include boys/men in our conversation and unpack the issues that lead to teenage pregnancy and other relevant issues, we will not overcome this challenge. The issue of girls vs. boys opens several other challenges that promote our patriarchal environment and essentially inequality. This further highlights the notion that you cannot engage girls/women without engaging boys/men to achieve a common goal.
Our project UNLEARN “BOYZ CODE” will therefore run in parallel with Healing Hearts/TeenSafe and engage boys from Grade 6 upwards.
What we know is that with boys/men there is this unwritten almost unspoken “Boyz Code” that promotes a stereotypic male character. The stereotypic male character is one where bad behavior is encouraged, boys/men adopt a hardline approach to women and other men, where emotions must be kept in check through promoting the “stiff upper lip” approach, violence against each other and girls/women is acceptable and self-esteem relies on your ability to express power. It is this very “boys code” that is passed down from generation to generation and promotes the “act tough” and “don’t show your feelings” attitude that is purely born out of the notion that boys/men must be the “sturdy oaks”.
AfrA Foundation’s vision is to engage, develop and educate young people for a better future and if we want to truly create a better future we have to promote equality and we believe unlearning the “Boyz Code” to develop boys that end up being real men who can honor, respect and fully engage each other and girls/women is one of the very important challenges we must take up.
One of the chapters in the book called Wild at Heart by John Eldredge has a piece by Daniel Taylor that reads,: “Freedom is useless if we don’t exercise it as characters making choices… Few things are as encouraging as the realization that things can be different and that we have a role in making them so.”
We believe that UNLEARN “BOYZ CODE” could possibly contribute towards mitigating the teenage pregnancy challenges in schools, as well as to help develop boys into men of honour, respect and fully engage each other and girls/women.