Recognising that the well-being of children and men are closely linked, The University of the West Indies gathered a panel of experts to investigate 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.
The two-day vice chancellor virtual forum held in commemoration of International Men’s Day and Universal Children’s Day, celebrated on November 19 and 20, respectively, occurred under the theme ‘Masculinity, Fatherhood and Children’s Rights’.
It also served as part of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) celebratory events for 30 years of advocacy for gender justice.
In her opening comments, delivered on behalf of vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Professor
Henry-Lee, pro vice-chancellor, graduate studies and research, The UWI 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.”
Citing data spanning from 2020 to 2022, she highlighted that Child Protection Family Services documented 35,958 cases of reported abuse and neglect during that period.
Additionally, she shared that statistics from UNICEF reveal that around 80 percent of children experience violence under the guise of disciplinary measures. Henry-Lee emphasized how these disciplinary approaches can contribute to the perpetuation of gender-based violence.
Dr Keith Nurse, president of the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT), in his remarks, investigated masculinities and the impact on gender dynamics.
He posited that “masculinity ideologies have been reincarnated where their focus is on exclusion”.
Nurse underscored the crucial importance of studying masculinity from a social policy perspective, particularly in the context of security threats in the Caribbean. The definition and construction of masculinity, he noted, played a significant role in influencing crime and violence.
The topic of toxic masculinity was highlighted by Patrick Lalor, policy and advocacy officer at the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life.
Lalor shared that “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 proposed that corrective strategies should provide avenues for enhanced collaboration with key socialising agents, such as the church, family, and communities.
Contributing to the conversation, Marcus Kissoon focused his remarks on the intersection of masculinity and child sexual abuse.
He suggested that fathers play a pivotal role in comprehending the societal norms that hinder boys from disclosing instances of such abuse. Kissoon appealed for the creation of safe spaces where open communication can occur without judgment.
Additionally, he urged men to actively listen and engage with the experiences and histories of survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation. He called upon men to denounce behaviors and attitudes that contribute to perpetuating fear, shame, and the silencing of both boys and male 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, as a counter measure.
The forum also featured a question-and-answer 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.