Wednesday, March 09, 2011

My thoughts on the Men’s Affairs Bureau

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 09 March 2011) 

The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has officially launched its Men’s Affairs Bureau (MAB). Once the story hit the newspapers, I received an email from someone named Lenny who had this to say about the MAB, “It’s a great gesture that could very well become the education equilibrium to reduce domestic chaos, violence, and family dysfunction. Your thoughts please!” Lenny, I’d be happy to share my thoughts.

On November 7, I wrote a column entitled, “An interview with Minister Priya Manickchand on Domestic Violence,” in which I asked the following question, “As Guyana transitions from a culture where domestic violence was at the very least a private issue, if not socially acceptable, to a society that now incarcerates abusers, there will be many abusers who should receive professional counselling to help them make the psychological adjustments needed to accept this new reality. Does your ministry offer this type of counselling for abusers?”

After explaining that most of the resources up to that point had been used to make sure the victims of domestic violence were safe, Minister Manickchand then said, “We are about, however, to officially launch a Men’s Affairs Bureau.

The establishment of this bureau was born of the recognition that in this whole effort to address violence against women, we were perhaps failing to address a necessary component, the men – who are in most cases, the abusers – thus making our efforts less than holistic.”

The Minister continued, “One of the mandates of this Bureau, which has begun its work, will be to advise on and implement programs that could address the men of our country in issues that are topical and, of course, with a mandate like that, domestic violence, its causes, perpetrators, consequences and solutions would have to be addressed.”

It has long been my belief that if Guyana is going to make any significant headway in the struggle against domestic violence, there needs to be a comprehensive program, such as Manickchand has detailed in her response to my interview question, to help abusers to make the psychological adjustments necessary to accept that domestic violence is indeed immoral – and illegal.

As such, if this is one of the primary focuses of the MAB, I gladly support this endeavour. Indeed, in a March 5 Guyana Chronicle article entitled, “Men’s Affairs Bureau launched,” the government newspaper said the new program was “aimed at holistically addressing the needs of men in relation to social problems between the two groups [men and women] and the root causes as they relate to domestic violence.”

So far so good. In fact, in that same article by the Chronicle, Manickchand is quoted as saying, “gender issues are often mischaracterised as only women’s issues.” She also said the “government recognised that Guyana could not develop at the pace needed, “if we do not pay attention to the needs of men in the country…the partnership between men and women could only catapult Guyana forward.”

I could not agree more. I even agree with Community Development Officer at the Office of the President, Reverend Kwame Gilbert, who said “domestic violence – another good reason for the establishment of the MAB – depletes the country of human capital, and is therefore injurious to the economic welfare of the country.”

However, before one reads Minister Manickchand’s statements or the statement by Reverend Gilbert, there is a hefty amount of President Jagdeo’s speech – of which left me feeling particularly unnerved about the MAB.

For example, according to the Chronicle article, “The president warned that there is so much pressure on boys in school and in society that the fear exists of the feminisation of young men. ‘If people don’t have a community of men to turn to for guidance, for male values – and masculine values do not mean aggression, but things that are unique to males — we would succumb more and more to this process of feminisation of men.’”

This feels very much like there is something wrong with being feminine. What is “this process of feminisation of men”? I have never heard of such a thing. But the president makes it sound like a horrid disease that no man should ever catch.

The further one reads in this article, the more the reader understands what is actually being said. Jagdeo continues, “We don’t want every young male child to start thinking that that is ok; I am not going to say the word. If we don’t want them to think that, then we need to start providing a community of men where they can get together and discuss male problems in a strong masculine environment.”

I do believe the word the president didn’t want to say was “gay.” Vidyaratha Kissoon thought the same way and wrote a letter to each of the daily newspapers remarking on the president’s statements and pondering the use of the MAB in an attempt to counter homosexuality in the society.

The Chronicle’s editor responded to Kissoon’s letter in part by saying, “…So the President was not condemnatory of the personal choices of adults, but he was expressing concern that, in female-dominated households, boys would not identify with normal male behavioural patterns, but could be psychologically influenced to veer toward identifying with non-inherent female and feminine impulses.”

Again, being feminine is made to feel like a malady – and this undertone is the very problem that lies at the heart of the domestic violence issue.

It seems we have discovered the first ones who need the MAB to help them better understand modern gender roles and the shift in the social makeup of today’s family.

It appears there are some who may not grasp the degree of misogynistic language that comes out of their mouths. Or they simply do not care.

In short, my thoughts on the MAB is that I reserve judgement until I can better determine whether the program is actually going to help in the struggle against domestic violence or – as some of the statements I have mentioned – simply reinforce the machismo that is already embedded into society that gives men the “license” to batter and murder women.

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