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MAN TALK - Steering men in the right direction|

Published:Monday | April 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

It was time for 'man talk'.

But this wasn't just some idle men sitting on the corner. This was the Male Desk of the Bureau of Women's Affairs (BWA) hosting its first Male Gender Sensitisation workshop.

The workshop is a collaborative effort with the United Nations Population Fund. The first workshop coincides with the first anniversary of establishing the desk. This was the first of nine workshops; the others coming to St Catherine; Clarendon; Manchester; St Elizabeth; Portland; St Thomas; St Mary; and St Ann.

The participants came from various inner-city groups and, save for a few older gentlemen, the age range was generally between 13 and 25. This was important as, according to Dave Noel Williams, senior policy analyst and Male Desk representative, this is the same demographic responsible for most violent crimes in Jamaica. They packed inside the conference centre at Family Life Ministries to hear the messages. The main objectives were to generally discuss gender, examine the roots of gender-based violence and to achieve better relations between men and women. The workshops will also emphasise the sharing of responsibilities between the genders.

All the sessions were interactive, the emphasis being on getting as much input from as many men as possible. In the first session, they explored the difference between sex and gender, explaining that gender is what society dictates a man or a woman should be. Williams asked them what they (based on what society had told them) believed made them a man in Jamaica.

"Cock-a-doodle-do (penis). Without one, yuh a no man!" shouted one
participant. Other things included having many girls and being a father
before the age of 20. Williams pointed to the second session where they
would try to resocialise the men from all they had been

That session, led by Luke-George Cooke, a
social worker and masculinity advocate, showed that many of the traits
now prevalent started during slavery when the masters took the stronger
male slaves to impregnate as many women as possible to get more slaves.

"Even now, the politician wants you to remain in the
ghetto because that enables him to get more votes for the
constituency," he reasoned. Using drawings of genitalia and asking them
to describe them, he showed them that even the words they used to
describe their own organ (rifle, anaconda), denoted violence. He
attempted to get them to put away these thoughts that have been planted
in their minds.

"When you begin your journey to
manhood, you have to put away the stereotypes," Cooke said. He
encouraged the group to carefully choose who they look up to, as many
of the current role models, did not portray the right

"Your ability to think and act in a
responsible way is what makes you a man," he said. He encouraged them
saying that all men have the necessary skills to be better, but not all
were using them. A major point in his talk was to emphasise the adage
of doing unto others.

"You need to step back and say,
'how do I want to be treated'?" He told them to go back 'on the corner'
and start to educate the brothers there. Throughout the day, the topic
of respect surfaced repeatedly - whether respecting women or another
man's opinion. They were also encouraged to work with women and,
together, both sexes could bring about new mindsets and

But the day was more than just 'talking'.
The participants were divided into four groups, each group mandated to
come up with ideas to help lower the incidents of violence against
women and to get their 'brothers' to refocus on the important things in
life. Looking ahead, the organisers will bring all the groups together
for an official launch of the 'Men against violence against women', a
part of the BWA's celebration of the Inter-American Year of Women. The
team will also head to the communities where, it is hoped, the
participants would have implemented the action plans they came up with
at the workshop.

"We don't just want to take them
out of their communities. We believe that in order to deal with the
problem, you have to go to the source," explained Williams. As with any
workshop, its effects will be seen over time. "This is not going to be
an easy road. Our brothers need the help. Too many of them are in
crime, out of school, totally misunderstanding what it is to be a man.
We are in this for the long haul," assured