The Department of Social Development in partnership with SANAC hosted the first Boys Assembly which brought together 500 boys from all provinces with an aim to mobilise them to be part of the solution in transforming existing gender imbalances, put an end to the spread of HIV and gender-based violence.
The initiative was primarily informed by Goal 4 of the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs (2017-2022) which speaks to address social and structural drivers of HIV. The initiative also formed part of the ongoing social behaviour change programmes run by DSD and SANAC across the country.
The boys engaged in holistic dialogues to interrogate issues that affect them and the communities they represent. They gathered under the theme ‘Boys Championing Change’.
Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said it is important to include boys in the fight against gender-based violence, gender inequalities and the spread of HIV.
“What is the contribution of boys in making South Africa a better place? We want to leave this country in the hands of men that won’t beat their wives, of men that won’t spread HIV, of men that won’t be addicted to drugs, of men that will take care of their children,” said Bogopane-Zulu.
A representative from UNICEF, Gloria Khoza said it is important to focus on the upliftment of the boy child.
“We’ve focused so much on empowering the girl child with aim to address gender inequalities that we’ve indirectly ignored the boy child. This is problematic because the two co-exist so you cannot empower the one without the other. I want to say to all boys gathered here today ‘you are gathered here so that you can return to your communities as champions of change’.”
High on the agenda was the issue of substance abuse – a 19-year-old boy from Mpumalanga shared his harrowing experience of using nyaope and KAT, two potent drugs known to lead to psychosis, panic attacks and depression that could lead to suicide. Other boys disclosed that they were already fathers with many battling for access to their children.
These are some of the dynamics the boy child has to navigate, that is why this Boys Assembly is important. We need to ensure that the boy child is heard and socialised appropriately so that he becomes a better man tomorrow,” said Rev. Zwo Nevhutalu from SANAC.
The Boys Assembly follows the Men’s Summit which was held earlier in the year in Durban. That gathering also centred around a similar format but targeting older men.