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The Next 50 Years - In Search of Real Men

Published:Sunday | December 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Glenda Simms, Contributor

IN 2012, the year in which Jamaica is celebrating its independence from British colonial rule, several social commentators and political analysts have commented on the many challenges affecting the family system.

One of the recurring themes is the search for effective measures to reduce the number of female-headed households in order to get men to take responsibility in sharing the raising and nurturing of their children.

In 1957, Edith Clarke, a noted Jamaican anthropologist, published her classic work My Mother Who Fathered Me. Over time, this important work has generated much debate among the intelligentsia. Some praise Clarke for her groundbreaking work on family dynamics in three communities in Jamaica. Others try to deny the reality of Clarke's observations in order to prove that the men in our society have never been given a chance to be 'real men'.

Those of us who continue to work with rural communities are able to relate to many of Clarke's findings. For instance, in discussing the characteristics of single-person households, she reminds us of the evolving and changing roles of both men and women.

It is obvious that Clarke described a Jamaica in which the social, cultural, political, and economic realities had the possibility of evolving and changing for the better. Our challenge is to revisit the issues raised by this remarkable anthropologist and to carry out our in-depth study of the present-day realities of rural folk after 50 years of independence from colonial rule.

While the academics and activists have spent a great deal of energy and external funding sources 'studying to death' the inner-city communities of Kingston, St Andrew, and St James, there is woeful ignorance about the lives, aspirations, and world view of rural folk. In particular, rural women are not seen as a powerful force in the changes that the society desperately needs.

TACKLE RURAL POVERTY

The 2009 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions has informed us that the majority of the beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education were from rural areas. This means that over the next 50 years, multi-sectoral efforts must be concentrated on the persistently high levels of rural poverty in order to ensure that women at the base of the community are empowered to control their bodies and their destinies
in line with the goals and objectives of the Millenium Development
Goals.

The current discourse on the absence of effective
fatherhood in far too many homes has caused a number of prominent
thinkers and academics to promote their ideas about manhood in a variety
of media. In one of the local newspapers, Dr Henley Morgan, businessman
and social entrepreneur, is reported to have told an audience that the
"four G's- guns, gangs, ganja, and gals -- in a bungle". They are the
destructive forces in the definition of 'manhood' and
'fatherhood'.

In the June 18, 2012, edition of The
Gleaner
, former Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for the
passing of parenting policy to make fathers more accountable. He used
his Father's Day message to emphasise the irresponsible behaviours of
the many men who neglect the many children they have helped to produce.
In the same vein, Minister of Education, the Reverend Ronald Thwaites,
argues that there is urgent need for cultural change that would ensure
that parents accept full responsibility for their
children.

In response to the opposition leader's
views, the Reverend Karl Johnson, general secretary of the Baptist
Union, places the responsibility for the cultural shift to be made in
men's behaviour on the women: "I believe women have to band together to
use their various resources to make us men stop. Women have to realise
that they are not just property, but partners." This reverend gentleman
also entreated women to engage in sex strikes to force men into
responsible behaviours. Obviously, this eminent churchman understands
the power of the vagina over politics.

POOR
SOCIALISATION

In trying to find other explanations,
several persons have focused on the dysfunctional socialisation of urban
young men. University of the West Indies sociologist Clement Branche
has argued that "in the inner city, there was a sense of place, but not a
sense of community". This situation, he argues, is related to the lack
of support activity and cooperative action on the part of the young men
who formed the focus groups that he studied in Jamaica and
Barbados.

The continuing dysfunctional socialisation
of boys shapes their ideas about sexual relationships as well as their
definition of masculinity in relation to the young women in their space
of operation. Stiff competition for scarce resources and the urge to
establish personal territoriality move enter into the relationship
between males and females. Branche came to the conclusion that "multiple
partners were seen as a necessary response to the conflictual nature of
interpersonal relationships".

Blaming the female
often appears to be justification for rationalising men's
irresponsibility in relation to their neglect of their children and
partners; however, the historical and continuing high levels of abject
poverty and violence have resulted in large numbers of children and
young women growing up in female-dominated and female-controlled
homes.While the statistical data produced by the Government inform us
that male-headed households are larger than those headed by women, we
must understand that the majority of male-headed households have women
in them. On the other hand, the majority of female-headed households
have no male to take on the responsibility of father.The 2009
Survey of Living Conditions also pointed out that
female-headed households have more children than the households defined
as male-headed.

CONFRONTING SOCIAL
ISSUES

In the June 25, 2012, edition of The
Gleaner
, writer Nedburn Thaffe reported that Archbishop of
Kingston the Most Reverend Charles Dufour was very concerned about the
issue of unwanted children. The archbishop would love to see fathers and
mothers take on more responsibility for their offspring. He argued that
they should only be having children that they can really afford to have
and want to have. Furthermore, the archbishop reminds us that it is not
the responsibility of the Government or the private sector to bring up
the child. He stated emphatically that "there are too many unwanted
children in this country".

Those of us who have been
advocating that Jamaica must ensure that every woman has access to the
full range of reproductive health services and reproductive rights
welcome the public pronouncements of the archbishop of the Roman
Catholic Church. We now anxiously await the stance on the issue of
unwanted children by Anglicans and all Protestant denominations - both
old and new.

When the churches seriously tackle the
grave social issues that have resulted in far too many Jamaican children
being raised in fatherless environments, and far too many women and
girls producing unwanted children, we might be well positioned to
envision a time in the near future when women will have real choices
about their bodies and reproduction.

In collaboration
with the Church, the State, and civil society, we must, in the next 50
years, redefine masculinity and femininity in less phallic terms and
help our boys and girls to understand their sexuality as an essential
component of their physical and spiritual being and not as the sole
definition of who they are as human beings.This approach would influence
young men not to aspire to a 'truck load of gals', and young girls
would endeavour to develop a womanhood that is empowering and
independent so that both genders could experience life in a holistic and
supportive environment.

The last 50 years have laid
out a blueprint that must be revised. Our children deserve a world that
gives more hope and dignity to the individual than the one that we have
allowed to evolve.

Glenda Simms is a gender expert
and consultant. Email feedback to
editor@gleanerjm.com.