There are six pillars of International Men’s Day (IMD). These are: working together to promote positive role models, to celebrate men’s positive contributions, to focus on men’s health and well being, to highlight discrimination against males, to improve gender relations and gender equality and finally to work together to create a safer and better world.
For far too long this very significant day has not found the buzz it deserves in the Jamaican landscape. However, this year the Institute of Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), Mona Unit, commemorated International Men’s Day under the theme: ‘Boys at risk in the Education System’ by having a silent march around the Ring Road of the University of the West Indies as well as hosting an interactive public education session.
This is most timely given the concern regarding the under achievement and participation of our males across all levels of the education system.
The global theme for International Men’s Day is “Working Together for Men and Boys”.
As a developing society, Jamaica is still a far way off from achieving harmonious gender relations between both sexes.
The society clearly needs to pay more attention to the issues affecting our males and boys, this will inevitably strengthen family life making Jamaica a safer and better place to live.
In celebration of International Men’s Day there are some critical 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:
In the first instance the society needs to pause and take a serious look at male suicide which is on the increasing. This is especially troubling as we continue to see an increase in domestic violence in which males usually kill themselves afterwards.
Secondly, we must make a concerted effort to keep our boys safe so they can become tomorrow’s role models. Thirdly, the society urgently needs to tackle the level of violence against men and boys.
The fourth area of concern is that of boosting men’s life expectancy by keeping men and boys safe from avoidable illness and death. The fifth area of concern highlights discrimination against males in the area of the law and social services.
Last but by no means we need to keep 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 ending 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. Boys for the most part are socialized to be rough and tough and unfortunately gender stereotype runs counter to the notion of men seeking medical attention. This portrayal of toughness does not sit well with the ideal hegemonic view of masculinity to which most males 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 to bear pain as much as possible. 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 or mental health practitioners exist in our society. Even where one can access mental health practitioners the cost is usually prohibitive for the average Jamaican family.
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 have failed our young men in terms of providing positive role models for our boys to emulate.
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.
All is not lost in Jamaica, we have projects such as the Back2Life project a Rotary Club of Kingston initiative geared at comprehensibly rehabilitating approximately 100 boys housed at the Rio Cobre Juvenile Centre. The Back2Life programme offers one on one male mentoring, life skills training, life coaching and family support.
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 a World Health Organization (WHO)Human Violence Report, each year 1.6 million people die from violence with a significant percentage of that number being males. 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 working together for the good of men and boys 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 they are begging or wiping car windows at major intersections across the country. Despite 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.
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. 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.
Waste no time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.-Marcus Aurelius-Roman EmperorWayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.