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Ugandan men are becoming girls' rights allies

A growing number of Ugandan boys and young men are committed to challenging negative attitudes towards girls and women. Emanuel has succeeded in changing discriminatory attitudes among his peers using social media.

Emmanuel spreads positive messages about gender equality using social media.
Emmanuel spreads positive messages about gender equality using social media.

Read the report: Unlock the Power of Girls NowIn our latest research report ‘Unlock the Power of Girls Now’,  Kisakye*, 17, from Uganda observes that most of the senior posts in industry and politics in her country go to men. ”They believe that the girls cannot handle such posts,” she says. “Presidency is not meant for girls.”

However, a growing number of Ugandan boys and young men are committed to challenging such discrimination. One of these is 23-year-old Emanuel from Kampala, who was brought up by a single father.

Since receiving training from Plan International, he has been campaigning hard to challenge negative attitudes towards girls and women in communities across Uganda and beyond. It has not been an easy ride.

“There is a stigma attached to being a male advocating for girls’ rights,” he admits. “Most people see us as people who are giving women more authority and they don’t like it.”

“They think that if a woman knows their rights, they will start setting the rules in the house. It will create chaos in the family and the man may feel disrespected.”

Stigma when men confront gender inequality

Emmanuel has shown that young men can support the fight for gender equality to great effect.
Emmanuel has shown that young men can support the fight for gender equality to great effect.

Plan International’s research reveals that Emanuel is sadly far from alone in facing such stigma. From Spain to Colombia, boys who dare to break the mould face ridicule, bullying and even violence.

"We have to be...‘manly’, we can’t show our feelings or anything... Parents educate us in this way, to guard our feelings, that’s why, boys, in a group, keep things to themselves because they are afraid that the group will ostracise them.”  said Mario, 15, from Spain.

However, as part of the research, young people identified how social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter can be spaces where such attitudes may be challenged.

Emanuel has been doing this to great effect as part of Champions for Change - a Plan International project that encourages young men to carry out community actions to challenge harmful gender norms and stereotypes.

“I post positive messages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about gender inequality and share videos of songs I’ve written on YouTube about ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy,” he says.

“Social media is a good tool for advocating for girls’ rights because most of the young people use these platforms and it gives me a chance to interact with them on a one-on-one basis.”

Changing attitudes through social media

Social media can be an effective tool for spreading the message of equality.
Social media can be an effective tool for spreading the message of equality.

Recently Emanuel met a 17-year old boy on Facebook called Ivan who had a deeply negative attitude towards women.

“I talked to him about the benefits to men if women go out to work and if men do more of the housework. Having a wife who works reduces the pressure on the man to provide for the family while having a man who helps prepare the food at the end of the day means that the work gets done more quickly.”

The impact on Ivan was significant. “After several conversations, his mindset began to change. He now recognises that women have a positive contribution to make in society and is helping me to campaign for other boys to also change their attitudes.”

Emanuel won’t let critics deter him from his efforts to help girls progress.
Emanuel won’t let critics deter him from his efforts to help girls progress.

Rashid Javed, Country Director at Plan International Uganda, says that Emanuel’s activism is a great example of how tools such as technology can be used to create spaces for girls and young women to participate and take charge of their lives.

Everyone needs to understand what constitutes gender discrimination, their role in it and how they can eliminate it.

“Boys like Emanuel should be commended for joining in the fight to enable girls to reach their full potential,” he says.

“Emanuel’s actions show that he recognises that when girls are given equal opportunities, it’s good for them, their families and society. When we invest in girls, everybody wins.

“His case also demonstrates how it’s crucial we tackle the stigma men and boys face when they advocate for girls’ rights. They need allies.

“Everyone – governments, civil society, corporates, leaders, parents, and other girls and boys – need to understand what constitutes gender discrimination, their role in it and how they can eliminate it.”

In the meantime, Emanuel won’t let his critics deter him from his efforts to help girls progress.

“When people criticise me, I challenge them,” he says defiantly. “I ask them to think about their lives and the people who were there for them during the times they felt most alone. Most of the time it was the women – our mothers and sisters.”

Read the report​


Learn more about young people's attitudes to inequality and discrimination in the report, 'Unlock the Power of Girls Now.'