Guyana launched its Men’s Affairs Bureau last month. To my knowledge, it is the only Caribbean country to have one. If the trend by which Caribbean Women’s Bureau quickly became Gender Bureaux in the 1990s and 2000s is any indication, more Caribbean countries may be following the lead of Guyana. Even in the absence of a men’s affairs bureau other Caribbean countries have used their Bureaux of Gender Affairs to address what they deemed to be important issues for men. For example, “in Trinidad & Tobago on March 8 2001, a female minister and former Minister of Culture and Gender Affairs, announced that the state would establish an anti-horning unit to create jobs for men so that women would not have to horn them” (Barriteau 2003).
From the media reports of the launch, attended by no less than the President himself, it appears that the Men’s Affairs Bureau is intended to address at least the three following things:
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.” (Minister of Human Services)
“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. (President of Guyana)
3) Restore Men to their rightful place
Caribbean sociology scholar Linden Lewis who has done work in the area of Men and Masculinities Studies outlined his concerns with the Men’s Affairs Bureau:
Quite apart from distancing themselves from such backward thinking, regrettably speakers at the launch of MAB seemed to embrace the idea of restoring a particular kind of gender order. One speaker talked about honouring men and giving them their place in society. These are not words of reassurance of gender collaboration. Rather the expression of such an intent is more in sync with the notion of returning men to a place of dominance. Furthermore, the remarks about some unspecified process that leads to effeminacy could only be regarded as ill informed and unhelpful. These remarks are also at odds with the expressed idea of respecting people’s sexual orientation and not persecuting them for the same.
The anti-homosexual rhetoric goes hand in hand with the need for men to be restored to their rightful place. It is the re-inscription of heteropatriarchy. The need to address domestic violence also dovetails with this agenda which seeks to preserve male dominance but rid it of it pathological excesses. What is expected to emerge is a gentler, kinder patriarchy. But a patriarchy nonetheless.
There are many issues facing Caribbean men which need to be addressed. However, it seems that Caribbean governments are unable to address men’s issues outside of a framework of re-inscribing male dominance. For example, if the intention is to ensure men’s right to a good life why is men’s violence toward each other not on the agenda? Is there anything else which claims more young Caribbean men’s lives?
The Men’s Affairs Bureau intends to foster small discussion groups of men across the country. Is it wishful thinking to expect that these groups will move beyond the ill-informed anti-woman, anti-homosexual, misogynistic rhetoric of the launch ceremony and focus on how men can and do contribute towards a more equitable and just society?
At CODE RED we have been able to foster dialogue among and between Caribbean women and men who are committed to everyone’s right to a good life. We hope that our state mechanisms for ensuring gender equality will arrive at some ability to do the same.
It is worth noting, however, that Women’s Affairs Bureaux in the Caribbean (perhaps with only the exception of Barbados) came out of the tireless hard work of women/feminist activists who insisted that the state respond to the needs of women. These bureaux have traditionally been under-staffed, under-funded, its employees grossly over-worked and underpaid, “institutionalised to fail” and construed as “illegal”. So while we hope that the MAB will prove to be a progressive institution we are not for a moment ignorant of the gender politics of its establishment!