Sometimes asked just out of curiosity, other times with concern, we hear this question a lot. It’s a good question, and it has an important answer.
First, let’s talk about why Kakenya’s Dream focus on girls.
Almost all societies are patriarchal, meaning women and girls face gendered challenges that their male peers do not experience.* In our community, this includes harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), lack of access to education and economic resources, and violence against women. Boys often receive preferential treatment, from larger portions at meals to greater support for their studies.
These gendered challenges hold women and girls back and prevent them from contributing their utmost to society. When these barriers are removed, it’s been shown time and time again that the result—more empowered women and girls—is a catalyst for broad community transformations, including economic growth (try here, here, and here if you’d like to learn more).
For example, when girls are given access to education, the entire community benefits. Not only are educated girls less likely to marry early, undergo FGM, and become pregnant, they are shown to invest in their communities at higher rates than men. Educated women are also less likely to live in poverty and statistically improve overall quality of life for their families and communities. The list of benefits goes on and on.**
We’ve seen this take place in front of our own eyes in rural Kenya, forming the foundation of our model. It’s why we’re what’s called a girl-centric organization. We target girls to improve life for everyone in the community: girls, their families, and yes, also the boys.
That said, boys and men are still key to the work we do and the community-wide transformation we are trying to bring. From the beginning, we’ve worked with fathers and other men in the community to help them see the value in supporting girls and we’ve continued to expand these opportunities. Here are just a few of the ways we’re reaching men and boys today:
At our co-ed weekend Health and Leadership Trainings, we provide both boys and girls the information and skills the need to be healthy and happy. We cover everything from sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDs to basic hygiene. Boys learn about some of the challenges girls face, including female genital mutilation/cutting and stigma around menstruation, empowering them to become allies and advocates for change.
In our community, fathers and daughters traditionally did not mix. Girls would go through their mother to ask their father’s permission for something, and even that is rare. We’re changing that at the Kakenya Center for Excellence. We invite fathers to visit each month to check in on their daughter. What starts as a parent conference about her grades slowly blossoms into a relationship. Fathers and daughters get to know each other. One father recently transformed from protesting his daughter’s education to proudly escorting her to her first day of high school in Nairobi just a few years -- his first time to the city.
Male Community Leaders
A key part of our model is the importance of bringing the whole community along in the work we do. In addition to working with the chief and other leaders, we also have a passionate Community Board made up of both men and women. The men are strong role models and encourage other men to stand up for girls’ education and against harmful traditional practices.
To learn more about our programs, check out the Our Approach page.
*While women and girls face different, gendered challenges, that is not to say that men and boys are not affected by poverty, lack of quality health care, poor educational systems, and other issues. Indeed, there are even some challenges that disproportionately affect men and boys, such as child soldiering. However, oppression of women and girls is systemic, meaning it is widespread and supported implicitly or explicitly by institutions (such as the Church or government), leading to devastating disadvantages. Men and boys also benefit from this oppression in some ways, intentionally or not. Increased efforts must be made to support all people suffering in the face of injustice.
** For a great summary of why investing in girls matters, check out this report from Plan International.