How male mentoring is changing girls’ education

Grace Chebet

Our male mentoring programme in Kenya is helping to break down the stigma around disability and gender. Moi, one of our mentors, tell us about his experience and the families he has supported.

The male mentorship programme was born in 2014, during the first phase of the Girls' Education Challenge. At this point, Leonard Cheshire focused on getting, and keeping, girls with disabilities in school. 

But the Girls' Education Challenge faced a serious barrier from negative attitudes in the community. Many thought it wasteful to educate children with disabilities, especially girls. Some felt that these children would never be successful or anything more than a burden. At the same time, few programmes were promoting the rights of children or adults with disabilities. This meant these attitudes were shared across the country. 

The project brought together people from communities across several Kenyan counties. Officers were then able to find where there were children who needed help.

Samuel, one of our mentees

The project team found that almost all of those caring for disabled children were women. Women made up the majority of people attending meetings and training for the project. This was due to a common belief that disability always came from a mother's genes. This meant that disabled children were always the mother's responsibility, not the father's.

Why we needed male mentors 

But Leonard Cheshire still needed to bring fathers onside, as they dominated local households. Some fathers even threatened women who became involved in the project. Children were still seen as being more helpful at home. Many girls with disabilities were married off while very young. Education was not seen as a priority. The team needed to change the minds of local fathers without being seen as upending tradition.

The answer was recruiting male mentors. Out of each 40-strong support group of parents, only around 5 to 10 were men. But these men were eager to learn and ready to support their children with disabilities. The project team realised that they could act as role models for others, and male mentorship was born. 

The project identified a total of 250 male mentors: 5 from each of the 50 support groups. These mentors were caregivers and supported inclusive education for girls with disabilities. They were in the perfect position to reach out to fathers not yet involved. 

These male mentors would pass on what they had learnt from the project to other fathers in their community. This included groundings in disability, parenting and challenging stigma and discrimination. 

As the project advanced and more children enrolled in local schools, the male mentors covered new topics. These included:

  • How men could help with the education of children with disabilities.
  • Challenging male stereotypes and gender roles.
  • How men can support their daughters in adolescence.
  • Supporting girls with disabilities in community participation.

How Moi is breaking the mould

Moi is changing the lives of the community members in Kuria East Sub-County. 

Moi comes from a community with serious gender inequality and high rates of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). But he has been able to start changing attitudes. Leonard Cheshire trained Moi to be a male mentor - and he is now changing his community, one household at a time. 

Moi said that training to be a male mentor has given him the power to challenge discrimination amongst fellow tribesmen. Moi's work has taken him beyond the support groups, and he helps people right across his community.

Two people he helped were Jane and Samuel.

How the programme changed Jane and Samuel's life

Jane and Samuel are a young couple from Moi's community. Moi took it upon himself to train them on the benefits of gender inclusivity, girls' education and sharing of responsibilities at home. 

As the couple learned from Moi, Jane, in particular, found her marriage changed forever. 

Samuel took on far more household chores, and now seeks Jane's thoughts on all household decisions. Jane now has far more say in family affairs. Samuel is now careful not to limit himself to 'male duties'. He takes a much larger role in raising the children and even went with Jane to the maternity clinic.

Samuel has also encouraged Jane to join self-help groups where she learns about managing finances. He wants to empower her to provide for their family through her chicken business.

All of this was almost unheard of in their village before the male mentoring programme. 

Jane and Samuel now teach their 14-year-old daughter to be confident and independent. They stress the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation and want her to follow her own path.

What's it like being a mentor

One of the people Moi mentors with is Paul Nyangi, from the small farming community of Kemakoba. Paul admitted that the mentoring programme had changed his life, and his wife Annah's.

Thirty-four-year-old Paul has been married for 18 years. He married Annah when they were both was 16. His wife lacks formal education due to the community considering this unnecessary. 

"We would follow the norms and beliefs of our fathers," Paul said. Paul and Annah's marriage was very traditional and patriarchal.

Paul emerged from the male mentoring programme determined to change the dynamic in his marriage. Annah took on far more influence and independence. She now has an equal say in family affairs and handles the finances of their farm. 

Paul also has a new outlook on his children. He now aims to treat his sons and daughters equally from an early age, making equality the norm for the new generation. He takes a much larger role in taking care of the children. 

Annah and Paul are also set on securing an education for their 13-year-old daughter Susan. In particular, Annah is passionate about protecting Susan from FGM, which is prevalent in the community.

Paul and Annah pride themselves in the fact the children can sit together with the adults and have discussions. They believe this has brought them closer together as a family.

How the future looks

Reflecting on the impact he has had on friends and neighbours, Moi said: "it is the responsibility of those with our knowledge to help our communities. 

"We must also practise what we preach. For with great power comes greater responsibility."

Using his unique position and support from Leonard Cheshire, Moi pushes for equality. He is a fierce opponent of FGM and campaigns for the education of all girls, with or without a disability. His success has shown the power of male mentoring.

Thanks to Moi's efforts, households are abandoning outdated attitudes and harmful practices. The result is a new future for local women and girls and a healthier role for men and fathers.