The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, with the support of the European Union (EU), is working assiduously to address negative manifestations of masculinity that are attributed to Gender-Based Violence in society.

The EU’s support has allowed the CARICOM Secretariat to facilitate robust discussions which have interrogated gender stereotypes and inequalities in Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. The discussion has now moved to Belize among primary, secondary and tertiary educators, representatives of faith-based and non-governmental organisations, as well as social and correctional institutions.

Their discussions are being expertly facilitated by Professor Emerita of the University of the West Indies, Ms Barbara Bailey, and Dr. Peter Weller of CARIMAN, within framework of the project themed: Rethinking Masculinity, Understanding Gender Equality as a Means of Ending Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Caribbean Schools. The project is funded under the Crime and Violence component of the CARIFORUM-EU 10th European Development Fund (EDF).

It was conceptualised as a result of the findings of a 2012 study – Youth, Masculinities, and Violence in the Caribbean – which revealed that male aggression and prowess are often precursors to violence. In summing up, the study reported that males tend to resort to violence as a first option, due to the belief that they need to be aggressive and exercise power in relationships, to prove their manhood. In addition, the young males held the view that this display of masculinity is strongly influenced by society: family, school, peers, and the opposite sex. Deviation risks ridicule.

The CARICOM Secretariat is taking a whole of society approach in countering these harmful beliefs. However, there is a recognition, supported by the study, that educational institutions should play a key role in re-socialising males and females. It should also play a key role in the search for ways to tackle the root causes of crime and violence.

A participant makes an intervention during the workshop
In her address to the opening of the workshop on Thursday 24 October, Deputy-Programme Manager for Gender and Development within the CARICOM Secretariat, Ms Ann-Marie Williams, said the study identified schools as an important place of influence in the construction of masculinity.

She noted that the findings were clear on the role of teachers in preventing Gender-Based Violence and in passing on positive messages to students through the curricula that “violence is wrong and masculinity can be rooted in peace.”

Underscoring the importance of the discussion, Ms. Williams posited that women’s role and status in society had benefitted from “decades of conversations” but boys were left on the periphery of these vital debates.

“No commensurate movement has emerged to help them to navigate towards the full expression of their gender,” she stated.

Ms. Williams said that recently, there had been noticeable attempts at “unpacking” the issue of masculinity. It was given perspective in the 2015 Regional Synthesis Report of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, in the Caribbean Joint Statement on Gender Equality, and in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most comprehensive road map to achieve gender equality and women empowerment.

It is against this backdrop, Ms. Williams said the Gender and Development Programme of the CARICOM Secretariat was taking “a proactive approach to improve regional policy directives in education planning and instruction.”

Minister with portfolio responsibility for gender issues in Belize, the Hon. Anthony Martinez, in his address, said Belize was pleased to be one of the pilot countries for this importance discourse. Belize along with Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname were the countries from which sample populations of more than 1,000 young people, teachers and parents were used in the study.

“In view of the findings of this study, we can all appreciate the need for this workshop and its objectives …to provide key stakeholders with effective strategies to engage youth in embracing positive ideas of masculinity and gender, in order to prevent violence in schools and in the society,” Mr. Martinez said.

The Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation added that there was a recognition that the messages boys were getting from society about manhood, alluded to their physical strength, aggression and competitiveness as the only qualities that should define them as men.

However, he pointed out, “We are all short-changed by gender inequality.”

Speaking directly to men, Mr. Martinez said: “We need to truly understand that when women in our lives and society do well, when they are afforded an equal opportunity to realise their full potential, without undue obstacles, that must not diminish us as men. To the contrary, it is shown over and over again that when women do well, everyone benefits.”

Belize can “ill afford gender inequality,” Mr Martinez posited.

“We are a small population and if we were to achieve our national goals, we need to be firing on all cylinders,” he stated.

Encouraging the discourse, he said: “Our children deserve to grow and thrive in a peaceful society, so we need to confront the root causes of crime head on, and certainly, distorted ideas of manhood is one of them.”

Expressing hope that the workshop would contribute to bringing about behaviour changes and fostering a “culture of peace in society,” he told the participants to take full advantage of the expertise present. He also encouraged them to “fully engage with the material” to be equipped with best practices that can be integrated in interventions, at the national level.

Mr. Nicolaus Hansmann, Team Leader, EU Technical Office in Belize, told the meeting his organisation “is very proud to support the initiative through the 10th EDF.”

He agreed with Ms. Williams that for a long time, gender studies were written about women and girls.

“Gender equality was seen as women’s concern and to be a man, seen as neutral or normal,” he stated.

However, he noted that more attention was now placed on that connection between men, masculinity and gender inequality, which was especially visible in interpersonal violence issues.

He posited that men should play an “important role in preventing all forms of violence and in protecting victims” because not only are they the main perpetrators of violence, but they are also the main victims of it.

“The EU is pleased with the initiative at the regional level. It appreciates that the National Women’s Commission is involved,” he said underscoring the importance of women’s involvement in carrying forward the benefits of their participation to other spheres of society, including the homes.

The Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture of Belize, the Honourable Patrick Faber, the final speaker at the opening, fully endorsed the initiative.

“We are very happy that the Ministry of Education can partner in this exercise because the teachers have a lot of influence on what is going on in the society,” he said.

He also encouraged a whole of society approach to tackling Gender-Based Violence, encouraging “everyone to put their shoulders to the whole” in addressing the root causes of toxic masculinity.

The workshop continues on Friday, 25 October, with an exploration of ideas on Ideal Caribbean Masculinity, and key actionable interventions that will make those ideals become reality.

The opening ceremony was graced with the presence of several dignitaries including the Belize’s Ambassador CARICOM, His Excellency Lawrence Sylvester. He plays a key role within the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassador in translating regional policies into national actions, and in the implementation of the CARICOM Strategic Plan.