Today, November 19, marks International Men’s Day, a day set aside to shine a spotlight on men who are making a positive difference and also raise awareness about issues facing men globally. Grounded on “Six Pillars,” the commemoration focuses on men’s and boys’ health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, highlighting discrimination against men, and promoting male role models.
In Africa, men have played instrumental roles in economic production, leadership, and building families and societies. They constitute the bulk of active labour force in both formal and informal sectors, particularly in the extractive industries. From performing the traditional roles of providing food, shelter, and security to their families to acting as custodians of culture and building protective/safe communities, African men have in no less measure contributed meaningfully to both the sustainability and evolution of their societies.
However, the story of contemporary African men is not all bright and blue. The very concept of manhood, despite being in flux, has largely remained one determined by systems of patriarchy that still exist in most societies in the continent. In fact, the chief mandate or social requirement for achieving manhood in Africa is achieving some level of financial independence, employment or income, and subsequently starting a family. Men are very much required to show these and also exhibit stoic characters to assert leadership and control.
Beyond these age-long social and cultural defects, African men are often recruited as combatants in armed conflicts in the region. That the vast majority of child soldiers are boys is so commonplace that it needs no comment. In the Horn of Africa, as well as in conflict-ridden areas of North and sub-Saharan Africa, insurgency groups often choose the youngest sons and boys, who are more likely to feel a sense of powerlessness and are most susceptible, malleable and traumatized. These Violent conflicts are often used to socialize boys into rigid gender norms that further spur armed and social conflicts.
Also, health outcomes among boys and men continue to be substantially worse than among girls and women, yet this has received little national, regional or global attention from health policy-makers and health-care providers. According to WHO, women live longer than men all around the world. The gap in life expectancy between the sexes was 4.3 years in 2000 and had remained almost the same by 2016. In the region with the lowest life expectancy at birth − sub-Saharan Africa − men are living 5.3 years less than women on average.
The theme for this year’s International Men’s Day is “Making a Difference for Men and Boys,” and is focused on promoting the need to value men and boys and help people make practical improvements in men and boy’s health and well-being. As the world celebrates this day, it is critical that governments, policymakers, and other stakeholders adopt policies that improve the health, well-being, and life expectancy of men the world over.
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