Building societies that are free from violence require new masculinities that embrace nurturing fatherhood

by November 30, 2023

On Monday, November 20, The University of the West Indies (The UWI) brought together a panel of experts for the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum, under the theme “Masculinity, Fatherhood and Children’s Rights”. The panel investigated the shifts in masculinities and their implications for children’s rights to live free from violence along with other rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This virtual forum jointly commemorated International Men’s Day and Universal Children’s Day celebrated on November 19 and 20 respectively. Recognising that the well-being of children and the well-being of men are closely linked, The UWI Regional Coordinating Office of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) as part of its anniversary events for “30 Years of Advocacy for Gender Justice” united these two important observances in this panel discussion which featured Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Graduate Studies and Research, The UWI; Dr Keith Nurse, President of the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT); Dr Tinuade Ojo, Head of the Women’s Studies Unit, Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg; Mr Marcus Kissoon, Trinbagonian Gender and Child Rights Activist and Mr Patrick Lalor, Policy and Advocacy Officer, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life.

In her opening comments, delivered on behalf of Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Professor Henry-Lee congratulated the IGDS for its 30 years of service to The UWI and the wider society. Professor Henry-Lee, herself a sociologist whose work has covered child research, highlighted the importance of fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children. “Fathers play an irreplaceable role in the development of their children.” She continued, “Fatherhood is essential as fathers must actively participate in creating an environment where children’s rights are upheld.” She quoted data from 2020 to 2022, which recorded that Child Protection Family Services received 35,958 cases of alleged abuse and neglect. With startling figures from UNICEF reports which illustrate that approximately 80 percent of children are exposed to violence in the name of discipline, she drew reference to how such approaches to discipline can lead to gender-based violence.

Dr Keith Nurse, in his contribution to the discussion, investigated masculinities and the impact on gender dynamics. He posited that “masculinity ideologies have been reincarnated where their focus is on exclusion.” He highlighted that from a social policy standpoint, the issue of masculinity was vital for study in the context of the security threats in the Caribbean as the matter of how masculinity is defined and constructed has a major impact on crime and violence.

Toxic masculinity was spotlighted by Mr Patrick Lalor. “The challenge we continue to face is the fact that many of the socialising agents including the family, the school and even law have pushed toxic masculinity qualities.”  He suggested that remedial strategies needed to include closer collaboration with these agents of socialisation such as the church, family and communities.

Adding to the discourse, Mr Marcus Kissoon centred his contributions on masculinity and child sexual abuse. He proffered that fathers have a role to understand the social norms that prevent boys from disclosing child sexual abuse and appealed for safe spaces to communicate without prejudice. He urged men to “listen to and engage with the experiences and histories of child sexual abuse and exploitation and call out other men on behaviour and attitudes that perpetuate the fear, shame and silencing of boys and men survivors.”

Adding the African context, through the lens of fatherhood in African societies, Dr Tinuade Ojo confronted the challenges, such as the authoritative father figure which limits fathers from expressing their emotions and the ability to connect with children, and the socio-economic pressures that impact on the ability for men to be actively involved in childcare. She proposed several opportunities such as flexible work policies, parental classes, and community assistance to encourage fathers to invest in their children, to counter this.

The panel in celebration of the IGDS’s 30th anniversary was moderated by University Director of the IGDS, Professor Diana J. Fox. Dr Gabrielle Hosein, Senior Lecturer in the IGDS St. Augustine Unit led the Q&A segment, which further dissected the panellists’ points of view on masculism and transforming the toxic ideals of manhood, how institutions have failed men and boys as well as women and girls, and tackling homophobia and heteronormativity.

Commenting on the overall initiative, Professor Fox said, “The Institute for Gender and Development Studies was honoured to host this important event as part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum series.  We have long recognised the importance of working alongside men who are advocates for gender justice. Our diverse panel expertly highlighted the many ways in which policy initiatives, civil society groups and individuals can and must contribute to building societies that are free from violence through the development of new masculinities that embrace nurturing fatherhood.”

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