Gender advocacy has always been personal for me. I started advocacy because growing up, I had a lot of questions about my identity and about the stereotypes I saw in the society. It seemed like there were different sets of rules for guys and different sets of rules for girls, especially as regards career choices and leadership. I wondered why it was so. It seemed like women were limited or deterred from reaching certain heights and my heart rebelled against it. When I realized the truth about who I was and whom I was meant to be, I decided to help every young girl and young woman do the same.
My advocacy is centred around women shattering glass ceilings and rising above stereotypical limitations. I advocate for them to live purposeful and fulfilling without regard to limitations society has placed on their gender. I achieve this by organizing programs from time to time, using my social media and writing on my blogs.
All through my advocacy, people keep asking why I am just focused on girls. I always like to say that it’s because girl child advocacy especially in this area of stereotypes is something I fully understand. As a woman who has some lived experiences, it is actually a lot easier to fully process, understand and talk about what you’ve been through passionately. That’s why it’s easier for me to handle this aspect of advocacy. I do not appreciate people who talk down on it or people who think we’re too loud because many girls still live in communities where they’re told not to aim too high.
Although I’m not a forefront boy child advocate, I am quick to shed the spotlight on men who have taken up the challenge. These men are making a huge difference in the lives of boys and young men. Today, I would love to applaud the efforts of Ola Akinwe. As an author and Boy-Child Social Revolutionist, he is currently involved in mentoring, training, coaching and supporting boys and adolescent males on their journey to responsible manhood. He does these through his Non-governmental organization – Boys Mentoring Advocacy Network (BMAN). In this interview, he shares his advocacy journey with us. He talks about how it all began, what inspired him, how it has been so far, the response, pitfalls and what makes him go on.
Sit back, grab a glass of something cold and enjoy this interactive session:
- Can we meet you, please?
Ola Akinwe is a Philanthropreneur, Literacy Activist, Author and Boy-Child Social Revolutionist. He is the founder of Boys Mentoring Advocacy Network (BMAN). A registered Non-Governmental Organization offering mentoring, training, coaching, support system, success development programs to guide boys and adolescent males on their journey to a healthy, caring, respectful and responsible manhood. He has been passionately equipping, inspiring and teaching young minds to love, learn, live and leave a legacy of an exemplary life since 2007. Ola is a NIGERIA COORDINATOR-International Men’s Day and NIGERIA COORDINATOR –World Day Of The Boy-Child. Ola currently serves as the Nigeria Executive- Fathers and Family Coalition of America (FFCA) and an affiliate member of Nurturing Father’s Program-NFP (USA)
2. In a world where men rarely organize programs for boys or men, but we hear complaints that women do a lot for girls, what inspired you to start an organization on boy child advocacy?
You know men and boys are the forgotten gender because it is believed that girls and women have been intellectually suppressed for so long and the need to give the female gender the intellectual expression has led to the total neglect of male folks. This is why Men and boys’ rights activist are rising up to draw equal attention to the needs of male folks. There is a need to balance the gender bias especially toward men and boys, you cannot focus on the nurturing and protecting one gender at the expense of the other. It is not working for the opposite gender either. No matter how well you educate or empower a girl or woman, if the boy or man is neglected, he is going to be a big headache for girl/woman and the society at large. There are several girl’s empowerments and developmental programs with funding opportunities but not until recently did we start witnessing the emergence of some boy’s rights advocacy groups of which they hardly get any funding opportunity.
My journey to the boy child advocacy is both personal and work experience. I will discuss only the work experience here; I have spent close to two decades in the private educational sector, working in the administrative department.
In September 2017, I admitted a boy into the 8th grade. During a conversation with his mother, she revealed that her husband had been out of job and have not been available in the family for more than four years and her sons had been in and out of school those years. Few weeks after admitting the boy, we found out he stole from his classmates. He was caught and during my interrogation with the boy, he told me he started stealing the moment he was first withdrawn from school due to lack of payment. He had stayed with boys on the street and they had influenced him to join them in stealing.
I was concerned about how this young boy and boys without fathers, father figures and positive developmental role models, turn out later in life if there are no intervention programs to help guide them into healthy and compassionate masculinity. This experience is what led to the establishment of Boys Mentoring Advocacy Network-BMAN
3. How has the reception been so far over the years from boys you have impacted?
Oh great! The boys are very delighted to have such programs that help guide them positively. Like I normally say, “No boy child is born behaving responsibly” we are all responsible for their behaviours. At BMAN, we run structured mentoring programs that capture the needs of every boy child and the boys love it. The attendance in our programs is impressive and sometimes all-inclusive – that is, the girls also participated. I have a few of the testimonials on our website www.bmanadvocacy.org. One of the most impactful programs was the mentoring section we had for secondary-school boys at Ore, Ondo State, Nigeria. It was an exciting and impactful experience because the boys had not had such an opportunity to be mentored.
4. Who are your role models in this area?
To be honest, in the mentoring advocacy, I would say, Joe Sigurdson and Craig McClain, founders of Boys to Men Mentoring Network (USA). At the start of BMAN, I reached out to them and they introduced me to their board members. It took months before we both signed a memorandum of understanding that helped BMAN to where it is today and advancing.
5. What are the thematic areas for the programs you organize?
Trust building, Healthy and Compassionate Masculinity, Rite of Passage, Being a Man, Literacy Skills Development, Peer Mentoring/Knowledge sharing, Non – Violent Communication, Emotional Coaching – Mindfulness and resiliency, ethical literacy and leadership development.
6. Have you attended other programs before on this before you launched yours? If yes, which programs?
No, I didn’t attend any programs before this.
7. What do you hope to achieve with this program?
The mission of BMAN is to cultivate boys to stand out by standing up, equip boys to be excellent and nonviolent communicators, teach boys ethical literacy and train boys to learn their own worth.
8. What is your advice to other men who also want to venture into boy child advocacy but do not know how to?
Study to be transformed before you can be an agent of transformation to the boys. Boys and Men development is an interesting venture when you understand the need of each individual and ensure that you have an inclusive with a structured developmental program. Be purposeful and develop an enriching context with the desired result.
9. What is your call to action sentence so that more men will start doing things for boys?
Steve Muller, a former president of John Hopkins University put it “the failure to rally around a set of values means that universities are turning out potentially highly skilled barbarians”. I would love to paraphrase that “The failure of men, and especially fathers, to rally around set of values for the boy-child, means that our sons will turn out to be barbarians.” The time for men to arise to secure the future of the next generation of families is no better than NOW.
10. What is your advice for men who belittle the efforts of women who are passionate about girls?
The society is better when there are cordial and healthy relationships with both genders. Most men who act in opposition to this probably do so out of ignorance. I do not condemn neither judge anyone, but I strongly advise that they seek knowledge and be glad that some genuine women are cultivating the next generation of wives and mothers. There are a lot of pseudo-feminists out there trying to pull (men/boys) down for whatever reason and this could be why some men belittle the efforts of these women or wrongly acquire habits that are unpleasant to women and girls.
I am sure you had a great time reading the well-articulated words of Ola Akinwe. He has stressed on why there is a need for boy child advocacy for the actualization of the gender equality we seek. He has also asked people who belittle girl child advocacy to seek knowledge because, in his words, society is better when there are cordial relationships between both genders. He has also called for men to arise now and secure the future of the next generation of families. If you want to be a part of what he is doing or learn more about Boys Mentoring Advocacy Network (BMAN), message him on his social media platforms or check their works out on BMAN website: www.bmanadvocacy.org.