It is time for men to take center stage. International Men’s Day is an annual global event celebrated on November 19. The focus of this international occasion serves to highlight the various forms of discrimination and challenges our males face, as well as, to celebrate the positive contributions, accomplishments and varied experiences of being male. For far too long this very important day has not found the buzz it deserves in the Jamaican landscape. However, this can be explained because we live in a society and indeed geographical region where the rights and issues of males are not historically viewed as important and therefore men’s rights are hardly taken seriously more so discussed in a meaningful manner.
The theme for this year “Keeping men and boys safe” is rather appropriate and timely given the on-going debate regarding how neglectful some of our males have become regarding the lack of attention they pay to their health and other supporting issues necessary for them to be safe and to indeed remain safe. Notwithstanding this fact as a developing society we are still a far way off from realizing that in order to have harmonious gender relations between both sexes there must be the requisite awareness and support to those issues surrounding and impacting our boys and men.
In celebration of International Men’s Day there are five very important areas of concern which require our collective efforts in order to keep men and boys safe and by extension our families and communities. These are:
Keeping men and boys safe by tackling male suicide, secondly, keeping boys safe so they can become tomorrow’s role models, thirdly, tackling our tolerance of violence against men and boys, the fourth area of concern is boosting men’s life expectancy by keeping men and boys safe from avoidable illness and death and last but by no means least keeping men and boys safe by promoting fathers and male role models.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), men are three times more likely to commit suicide. This gender disparity in suicidal rates can be partly explained by the fact that men tend to use more lethal means of taking their lives such as hanging and shooting. We live in a society where the issue of mental health is not readily spoken about. The tendency is for us to exclude from social events members of our families who suffer from mental disorders in an attempt to paint a picture of sanity for those looking on. Jamaica is considered to have a low suicidal rate of around 2.26 per 100.000. However more can and should be done to reduce this rate. The Jamaican culture also plays a significant role in explaining why our males often times shy away from going to the doctor. Our boys for the most part are socialized to be rough and tough and unfortunately seeking medical attention is not in sync with this notion of masculinity to which we adhere to. As men we usually wait and wait until the pain has become unbearable and intolerable before we seek out medical care. This tendency certainly has negative implications for the quality of life for our men. It can be argued that men are socialized in a gendered manner. A male who readily seeks medical attention is not viewed favourably by other males and indeed the wider society as this is not considered as manly or macho. As a result many men suffer in silence from various health issues, a significant part of this suffering also impacts the mental status of our men. Men are always the last to go and talk with a counsellor or psychiatrist because of pride and the male ego. No wonder the suicidal rates for men are higher than that for women. Additionally, the accessibility and affordability of mental care should be of grave concern, not enough public sector mental health facilities of mental health practitioners exist in our society and even where it exits the cost can be prohibitive for many males especially the working class and the unemployed male.
The issue of positive role models for our young men to emulate cannot be overstated. Positive male leadership is woefully lacking across all sectors of the Jamaican society. Our institutions of socialization namely the school and church are themselves struggling with the same problem. Our female dominated schools and classrooms provide very little avenue for our males to be mentored and or emulate male leadership. With more and more families being headed by females there has been and continues to be the urgent need for men of good character and standing in the society to mentor our boys. A mother cannot teach her son how to be a man.
From the moment a male is born he can expect to live a shorter life than his female counterpart in almost most countries of the world. In Jamaica the life expectancy rate for males is 71.5 years compared to 75 years for females. A number of factors can be forwarded to explain why men die earlier than women. One such school of thought is the fact that men tend to be more violent and aggressive in nature than women. According to Glen Poole in his book: Equality for Men” Every year over 500,000 people die from violence and eighty three (83 %) per cent of them are men and boys. There is clearly a need for a campaign for the elimination of violence against men and boys globally. There should be zero- tolerance of violence against any male regardless of his socio-economic background, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Addressing each of these challenges male face will great assist men and boys all over the world to be safe and live longer, happier and healthier.
In keeping our boys and men we must examine the society in which we live. For the most part we live in a very violent society. In fact most of the victims and perpetrators of crimes are males. According to the Jamaica Constabulary Force Statistics Division Jamaica recorded 1045 murders in 2002, this number increased to 1335 in 2006. A worrying trend is the high levels of participation of children especially males in criminal activities. Data provided from the 2006 Economic Social Survey of Jamaica (ESSJ) stated that children especially boys, alarmingly some as young as aged twelve were identified as offenders for a significant proportion of all major crimes. It is very clearly that we are failing our youths especially our adolescent males if it is that so many of them are turning to a life of crime or will become a victim of a criminal activity. Our boys cannot and will not succeed in such a violent and unsafe environment. The overwhelming majority of our street kids are males some of whom are of school age and should be attending school instead of begging or wiping car windows at major intersections across the country. Given the budgetary constraints more can and should be done for these youngsters.
The emphasis is now on the wider society to partner with the state to implement enrichment programmes to adequately address the special needs of our males in order to transform their lives.
The Jamaican state has been rather silent regarding raising the awareness of men’s issues. We need to focus our attention on early cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment of male cancers especially prostate cancer which is rather prevalent in the society. Promoting gender equality must include examining those specific issues affecting and impacting men separate and apart from those of women. It cannot be that the issues of men are boxed in a state entity which for the most part only serves the women’s rights. The time has come for us as a society to be bold and proactive and replace the Bureau of Women’s Affairs with a Bureau of Gender and Development Affairs to be more inclusive of the specific needs and issues of both sexes. Our boys continue to under-perform and under achieve at all levels of the education system in the society from the primary to the tertiary level. No doubt this disturbing trend will continue for some time if it is that as a society are boys do not feel a sense of security and safety in the space they occupy and manoeuvre on a daily basis. One way to address the plight of our disadvantaged and at risk boys is by means of “recuperative masculinity politics” which calls for a reasserting of masculine privileges in light of the fact the specific needs of our boys are subsumed under the priority given to girls.
We seriously need to revisit our national gender policy with the aim to ensure that neither sex is being disadvantaged.
On this very important day let us celebrate our collective masculinity while at the same time recognizing our differences as men. Let us recommit and regain our roles in our families as we work towards improving gender relations and promote unity in the Jamaican society.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.