Tue | Jan 28, 2020

Working together for men and boys

Published:Wednesday | November 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Below is a submission from the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. Email feedback to columns and suzanne.charles@uwimona.edu.jm

Today the international community will once again commemorate International Men's Day (IMD). According to Jerome Teelucksingh, who conceptualised the day in 1999, the objectives of International Men's Day include highlighting discrimination against men and boys, and celebrating their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage, and childcare.

One could reasonably argue that, given the comparatively worse situation of women in every context - social, economic and political - the commemoration of International Men's Day may seem a moot point. But this year's theme, 'Working Together for Men and Boys', is intended to bring greater awareness to issues that affect men and boys worldwide, including men's shorter life expectancy, the comparatively high male suicide rate, society's apparent collective tolerance of violence against men, the struggles boys currently face in education systems, and the unique challenges of father-child relationships.

Education System

Closer to home, in the Caribbean, concerns continue to be expressed over the quality of men's and boys' engagement with the education system, involvement in antisocial activities, including crime and violence, inadequate attention to issues of health, particularly sexual reproductive health, and labour-market participation.

As Murray (2009) asserts:

"There is much talk about Caribbean men 'falling behind', whether in school, the workplace or at home. Some even label this a 'crisis', arguing for drastic interventions to help young boys learn appropriate models of masculinity and develop into healthy, productive men who respect themselves and others ,,, ,"

Given the social and economic challenges experienced by men and boys that will be highlighted through the commemoration of IMD, some may be tempted to position IMD in direct opposition to IWD (International Women's Day), which has traditionally been used to highlight the ways in which women and girls have been systematically and systemically discriminated against.

Others may wish to use these challenges as grounds to undermine the gains that the feminist movement has reaped for women. Some may even - as is done in some quarters - use the day to blame the advancement of women for the perceived decline of men, as if men have an a priori right to access material and non-material goods, including education, in a way that women do not.

Critical Dialogue

The opportunity, however, should be grasped on IMD 2014 to promote critical dialogue around issues of gender equality; as well as to reflect on the consequences of how gender systems, steeped in patriarchal convictions of the superiority of some and inferiority of others, imprison both men and women, through gender stereotyping, and particularly through a hegemonic understanding of masculinity, which has deleterious consequences for women and girls.

Such an approach only makes sense, as while many men are not innocents in the manipulation of patriarchal privilege, not all men benefit from patriarchy in the same way.

Conversely, some women embody the attributes of patriarchy better than any man could. By using the opportunity of IMD to shed light on the harmful effects of gender stereotypes, men and boys, as well as women and girls, are helped. The ongoing United Nations-endorsed He for She campaign is an excellent example of how gender equity and equality need to be renegotiated and how the business of gender is ultimately about human rights.