Towards defining an agenda for men

Last Saturday was observed as International Men’s Day in over 70 countries including Barbados. However, unless the average Barbadian was aware, the significance of the day could have easily gone unnoticed. Despite being around since 1992, International Men’s Day neither enjoys United Nations recognition nor generates hype and fanfare associated with International Women’s Day.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the reverse gender imbalance, being observed today in many countries, where men’s issues are generally not taken as seriously as women’s issues. It is a situation which has gradually emerged over the last four decades as the attention of policymakers, from at the United Nations down to the national level, has focused more on addressing women’s issues to correct historical injustices which had placed the fairer sex at a distinct disadvantage in relation to men for centuries.

An unfortunate result has been that many critical men’s issues have not been receiving the kind of attention that they rightly deserve in the interest of ensuring the maintenance of a gender balance in this new dispensation where equality and non-discrimination are important global values. Because of this, there are some men today, including right here in Barbados, who believe that the progress of women has been at the general expense of men.

International Men’s Day, therefore, is a welcome initiative as it can serve as a platform for drawing attention to and raising awareness of the range of issues affecting men, especially here in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean. Reading the daily news, it seems so many men are falling through the cracks that it is quite common today to hear social scientists and other experts describe men, specifically black males, as being in crisis.

Because the socialization of men has basically remained unchanged, even though the environment in which they live and interact with women has drastically changed over the last four decades, many men are struggling to define what their true role is because the traditional one, namely that of breadwinner in the family, no longer obtains in many instances.

Most women today are gainfully employed, earning an income which in some cases exceeds that of their male partner, and all of this has provided women with a strong sense of independence. The traditional concept of the man as breadwinner may have applied when few women worked and were content in the role of homemaker. Today, that concept has been redefined, making a man’s role in the family more complementary than dominant.

Many men are having difficulty adjusting to this reality and it is, in some cases, a source of conflict with women.  What is clearly needed, for the sake of stable families and healthy man-woman relationships, is the initiation of a gender dialogue – a genuine outpouring of mutual feelings – to help men and women come to a clearer understanding of their respective roles in a fundamentally different environment.

The fact of the matter is that men and women still need each other, especially if their desire is to have children and raise them in a stable family setting. Women, generally speaking, have been more organized in order to effectively advance their interests, especially where influencing public policy is concerned. Men, on the other hand, generally take too many things for granted, including their health and wellbeing. They can learn a lot from women when it comes to organizing to advance their agenda and lobby policymakers to take action on their concerns.

In 1976, a National Commission on the Status of Women was established here to consult women about their issues and concerns and craft a plan of action for their advancement. This policy intervention has been a catalyst in the advancement of Barbadian women. Given the challenges facing men today, especially our young men, it seems that a National Commission on the Status of Men may be the answer to come up with a relevant agenda for men.

Perhaps this is an issue that the Men’s Educational and Support Group (MESA), currently the main advocacy group for men, may wish to take up. The timing could not be better. A general election is due in less than a year and a half. If men can become better organized, they could approach both political parties to find out what are their plans to improve the lot of men and engage in the necessary lobbying.

The solution to men’s issues lies, it seems, in men getting together to help themselves – something they seem to have difficulty doing – recognizing that if they do not look out for their interests, no one else will. At any rate, growing up in Barbados, were men not taught, as well as women, that the good Lord always helps those who help themselves?

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