On Friday, 25 November, the Family Resource Centre (FRC) of the Department of Counselling Services (DCS) hosted the first ever “State of Men and Boys Forum” as part of its International Men’s Day (IMD) activities.
IMD, annually observed on November 19th, calls for a global dialogue about manhood, masculinity and the social and health issues that men and boys face. The FRC, who has been celebrating IMD via numerous community activities over the years, introduced the forum to its line-up of activities in an effort to increase face-to-face dialogue on a number of relevant topics.
“The overall objective of the forum was to inspire participants to become agents of change by increasing their understanding on issues impacting men and boys,” explains Charmaine Miller, Clinical Supervisor at the FRC. “We invited speakers from education, health, and mentorship who could really bring their expertise and experience to the participants and inspire them to, at the very least, learn more about these key issues,” she adds.
Greg Miller, psychologist at Infinite Mindcare, spoke on the topic of masculinity broadly and healthy masculinity in particular. “Healthy masculinity, to me, means creating a balance between honouring our masculinity but also making space for our true self. What do I mean by our true self? No longer hiding, no longer denying parts of ourselves to fit this rigid stereotype, no longer needing to wear this unnecessary mask,” Mr. Miller explained.
“Healthy masculinity means holding on to the aspects of masculinity that will allow for you to tend to your duties as a father, as a man, as a male in society, but then to let go of the aspects of masculinity that will prevent you from seeking and benefitting from assistance,” Mr. Miller continued. “So, if something hurts, cry. If you’re feeling afraid, say so. These feelings aren’t restricted to women. These are not ‘women feelings’, these are human feelings.”
Mark Ray, Director at the Department of Education Services, spoke about the opportunities for boys in education, identifying how in gender equal societies teacher quality and a solid early-years foundation were two key components in student achievement. “Boys struggle to achieve at the same rate [as girls]. They have more recorded behaviour issues and lower completion rates of education at all levels. In more gender equal societies we see fewer boys progressing at more stages of education,” Mr. Ray began. “I started looking at our Annual Education Data Report, and in 2021 it spoke to the number of children in early education settings. If we are to go with the ESO statistics of more boys than girls, more men than women [50.6% male and 49.3% female], when we started to look at the number of children in early childhood [education] settings, we have more girls in early childhood [education] settings than boys. As a matter of fact, we had about 10% more girls accessing early childhood education settings than boys.”
“Now, if we are saying that we need access to quality teaching at an early age and we need a good foundation, then our boys maybe starting off at a slight disadvantage not accessing ECCE [Early Childhood Care and Education] settings,” Mr. Ray concluded.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Gent, in presenting on masculinity and health spoke of the duty that health professionals have in addressing inequality. “We must, in our positions in leading in this society, make sure that we advocate wherever we see inequality. Inequality is the biggest driver of poor health, ill health, premature death, premature suffering and unnecessary suffering that we can change,” Dr. Gent stated.
Lastly, Christopher Murray, John Gray High School Counsellor and Founder of the “Boyz2Men” mentorship programme, spoke of the impact of mentorship by sharing his experience in mentoring boys in the community. “We started the programme, Boyz2Men, with 3 boys. One is on that picture getting married, one is at Northward Prison, and one is overseas doing well,” Mr. Murray began. “We then realised we caught 2 out of 3, and if we were able to catch 2 out of 3 then this may be possible. I honestly believe we were able to reach an entire generation simply because we never gave up on these boys. So far, over 12 years this programme has been going and we have touched tomorrow from today by dealing with approximately 550 boys,” he added.
Over 100 persons attended Friday’s event, and Judith Seymour, Director of the Department of Counselling Services (DCS) assures us that this is not a ‘once-off’ event.
“It was clear that there was a real appetite for these types of discussions, for this type of interaction and simply the collective acknowledgment that this is our reality, that our boys and our men do have vulnerabilities and struggles. Our hope is to not only continue this dialogue, but to inspire others to also take ownership of these types of endeavours and do their part. We need to see more men leading in these efforts for men and boys as well as supporting women in their fight against gender inequality. Our department will continue to do its part, as well as encourage others to do theirs, so this is certainly the beginning, not the end,” Ms. Seymour added.
The Family Resource Centre (FRC) also announced the launch of their new programme “A Young Man’s Guide to Self-Mastery”. This 14-week programme for boys ages 13-16 is a trauma informed, gender responsive treatment programme that addresses the impacts of socialisation and adverse life experiences. The aim of the programme is to support boys in developing healthy senses of self, understand their emotions, increase their communications skills, better understand their sexual and gender identities, and build healthy relationships. Persons interested in registering or learning more about this programme can log on to https://www.dcs.gov.ky/frc/family-resource-center-a-young-mans-guide-to-self-mastery or contact the FRC directly on email@example.com.