Message from Hon. Premier: International Men’s Day

Too often we think of the males in our societies as the protectors, the providers; those who would provide safety and security. How often do we step back and truly look at the needs of boys and men when it comes to their safety and wellbeing? I would think it’s not something that we do automatically or even daily. I believe that this is the time that we must begin to look with our boys at ways of keeping them safe so that they will grow up to become role models for our future generations. 

And so I want to begin by congratulating the hard workers in my Ministry of Community Affairs for embracing this year’s International Men’s Day theme, ‘Keeping Men and Boys Safe’. I also commend the efforts of the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs which works to promote gender equality and gender mainstreaming throughout government, and also provide this message jointly on behalf of the Hon. Minister responsible for Gender Affairs, Tara Rivers.

We need to ensure that our boys are encouraged to stay in school and continue their education into college and beyond. The gender gap between boys’ and girls’ performance and attendance in schools is also an issue that the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs is working to address. We need to instil in them that they all deserve the opportunity to grow up to be healthy, happy, productive and successful in whatever future endeavours they choose. And we also need to teach them how to be fathers to their future children.

It is through the work and actions of active fathers and male role models that our boys will make the positive transition from boyhood to manhood.

But if we don’t also insist that men take care of their health, that transition may be for naught.

Research shows that men are least likely to seek help when it comes to their health issues. Many often only get medical attention after their health deteriorates to the point that it demands it or after significant prompting from the females in their lives. We need to develop a culture where our boys are taught that asking for help is a sign of strength and empowerment; not a sign of weakness.

One of the objectives this year is to address male suicides. Worldwide, more men kill themselves than do women. The World Health Organisation estimates that nearly 1 million people take their lives every year and that most of them are males. In developed countries, it is estimated that men are generally three to four times more likely to take their own lives.

Suicidal feelings and thoughts are often a result of people experiencing significant unhappiness and distress in their lives; but suicide is preventable. Prevention of suicide is not the exclusive responsibility of any one sector of our society. By paying attention to certain signs that might include evidence of deliberate self-harm, or the person in question expressing their thoughts to relatives, partners, or peers, we can potentially have the opportunity to intervene and save lives by offering appropriate and timely help and emotional support. We need to work with our boys and men to show them that there are other options when life seems to become too overwhelming. 

With International Men’s Day in mind, we also must address violence against men and boys. Unfortunately we see this in our own community. While our prison is filled with men and boys who got there by means of violence, and we all know of needless deaths that resulted from violence, we should not accept this as an inevitable fact of life. As a society, we can instead challenge the rigid masculine norms that promote and excuse aggression and have the potential to damage and limit both young men and women. The best way to prevent violent assaults on men is to change the behaviour of other men.  We can begin to shift this trend by teaching our boys and young men skills that they can use to resolve conflict more productively and manage their emotions in a healthier manner.

Today, International Men’s Day, a special dinner and a film screening will be held at 6.30pm at Grand Old House. The 20-minute local short film Boys’ Voice: International Men’s Day Celebration of Boyhood will feature interviews with 12 boys about their experiences and challenges. Providing our young men with opportunities such as this to express their feelings and dialogue on issues of importance to them is an important start to redefining what we determine as acceptable in our culture.

And be sure to tune in to Radio Cayman’s Talk Today shortly after noon for a roundtable discussion about International Men’s Day and more information on this year’s theme.

Please take some time out today and think about ways you can empower the boys and men in your life. Let’s also remember that gender equality is not  only about ensuring that women are equal to men,  but rather how we can work together to enhance opportunities, ensure access and practice fairness for all boys, girls, men and women.