The violence against women in T&T continues to rise. Daily you hear reports of girls, boys and women physically or sexually abused and killed. And often the perpetrators are men. The abduction and murder of Ashanti Riley is just one example.

This has once again raised the question of what we as parents and guardians are teaching our boys and where our men are going wrong.

However, the issue is not just a local phenomenon. According to the official website of the United Nations, in November, United Nations Human Rights Expert, Dubravka Simonovic condemned the rising femicides and violence against women globally as the world marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

The leaders of two organisations that represent the interests of men in T&T spoke to the Sunday Guardian about issues facing men in 2020 and how it relates to violence against women.

Rhondall Feeles

Rhondall Feeles, president, Single Fathers Association of T&T:

Q. As a father, brother, where are men going wrong? What motivates men to commit these crimes against women?

A. We don’t understand the concept that it is a gender thing. We don’t ever look at the reality of this being a human thing, where people lack that level of emotional intelligence. Because there’s a lack of emotional intelligence people are quicker to become violent towards each other. We may only look at violence meted out to women by a man, but what about violence being meted out by women on women?

Women are predominantly the ones who raise boys and young men. Where are they going wrong? Where are the men and fathers going wrong?

We know a lot of young boys are raised by mothers and this is still not saying that mothers cannot raise boys. Mothers as parents can be responsible enough to raise productive and respectful children. Father absenteeism is not an excuse to raise a criminal or a child participating in bad acts. Children are not born bandits. They are a product of their environment. My mother raised respectable young men who never put their hands on women. It is important to include fathers when raising children. Mothers need to culture their young boys differently.

You have said in the past that these problems arise from the home.

The home is where the culture begins. This is the primary environment that the child is exposed to. Once you have a good home setting it will impact all our lives. The home is where the discipline or ill-discipline will begin. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. People talk about teaching big men this or that. But things that have been inculcated at a young age are very hard to get rid of at a certain age. It must be taught to boys and girls too that we must respect each other’s space. I taught my boys never to put their hands on a woman, but never let them put their hands on you too.

Women are becoming more independent and successful. Do you think that men are unable to handle this and are hitting out?

I strongly disagree with this and if there are men like this, I believe these men are in the minority. Women have been successful since over the last two decades. I went to St George’s College and girls always did better than boys. The girls got the scholarships and came first in Common Entrance. We have seen a female Prime Minister, a female President. Mrs Persad-Bissessar was just re-elected as leader of the UNC and it wasn’t just women alone, but men voted for her too. Only a minority of men are threatened by successful women. What men don’t like is when women throw their successes in men’s faces to emasculate them.

Should society change how it socialises boys?

There are some ways we socialise boys that cause them to suffer abuse. We teach them that a man should not hit a woman, but we don’t teach that women must not hit males. If we don’t teach those dual messages it will come through one conduit and it will have a bad impact. We need to re-culture our boys and girls during that sponge-like formative stage of their lives, there should be no hitting and they must show respect for each other. Also, we must teach both boys and girls to keep the environment verbally-abusive free. We only see violence resulting in deaths but what about violence behind closed doors? It is greater. We don’t want to speak about these things.

What do you think needs to be done?

The answers lie in how boys and girls are socialised, it lies in emotional intelligence. These are things that need to be done before men and women get into relationships. These are issues that need to be cultured in schools. I believe in God and that morality is important. We need to correct traditions such as only teaching boys some lessons when in fact we need to teach both boys and girls. Public messages from the Ministry of Social Development, messages from the media, messages from the Police Service must be non-biased.

Michael A T Stewart

Michael A T Stewart, president, Be Male Examples Now (BMEN), an organisation that represents men’s issues in T&T.

In the past, you have spoken about role models for males. Are there enough positive role models for males now?

The most influential role models are public figures. These include entertainers, movie stars, religious leaders, and politicians. Unfortunately, these public figures are portrayed in the media as drug users, residents in jail, fraudsters, pursuing fast cars and riches, lacking in stable family life and integrity in their dealings in different areas of their lives. So while they are role models to many, they are negative role models. The accusation against Bill Cosby is likely the hardest hit for role modelling as he was the standard of good public figure role model. Keep in mind that not all are negative, but too many are. So to your answer, I would say no, there are not enough positive role models for males now.

Does society give males the support they need? We still hear reports of males who have been the victim of physical abuse in relationships being laughed at in police stations and other public places.

Males lack support from society for their needs. Society is still skewed towards a woman’s side of a scenario. I believe that we interpret “gender equality” and “domestic abuse” to be equality for women, not men, and domestic abuse against women and not against men. Many men report being physically abused by women who are aware that for men to retaliate would cost them their careers. I also believe that attribution theory applies to society. By that, I mean that society interprets that men who abuse women manifest an unstable disposition, ie, this is an internal personality flaw in men. On the other hand, women who abuse men are responding situationally and not as a personality disposition. Women, we say, are expressing their frustration caused by men. Abusive men are so because of who they are. Abusive women are so because of their unhappy situation caused by others.

As a counsellor, what are the most pressing problems males face today in society?

I believe the most pressing problems males face today are:

A. Feelings of being emasculated by society and women in particular. There is almost no space or group that is considered male-only spaces. While women have all women’s groups and clubs, men seem to no longer have male-only spaces. Cadets used to be a boys group, it is no longer so. Washrooms used to be male and females. You enter public washrooms and meet women in them and if a man inadvertently enters a woman’s washroom the remarks and glares are intimidating.

B. In health, prostate cancer records higher incidence and deaths than breast cancer, yet little education and support are given to mitigating against this imbalance.

C. In family life, many men desire to be connected with their children but the court system appears to give automatic custody to the mother, even when the man is in a better position to care for the children. Men report that the court is used by vindictive women to punish ]them in the area of maintenance for children.

D. Absence of fathers and male role models in the upbringing of boys.

Society stereotypes males as being the aggressors. Do you feel this is true?

When it comes to physical aggression I believe that society may be right. The majority of aggression seem to come from men. I believe that as men, we allow some of the inappropriate things women do to trigger us to do things we should not do. Women are not completely innocent in the issue of abuse.

How does society solve the issue of violence against women? What role do males play in the solutions?

A. Do not trivialise violence against women in our public or private jokes. I remember having to respond to a friend of mine who in a group chat made the statement, “Let me go and cook my husband food before he comes home and beat me eh.” I told her that sends a wrong message to her children hearing that and even though she meant it as a joke we do not want to legitimise a wrong behaviour by making it appear so casual. Many women have lost their lives so it is not a joking matter. Men need to also stand firm on a no-violence position when we meet and speak amongst ourselves.

B. The law should be more stringent when a man has been found guilty. Society needs to send a clear signal of no tolerance to violence against women. Inappropriate instances deny bail because restraining orders seem inadequate when a man has a fixated desire to end it all for himself and others.

What needs to be done to start to change the narrative?

A. I believe that we need to understand the antecedents of a man. His growing years hold many answers to his present predicament. Let’s listen to the unspoken pain of boys and men.

B. Include male issues in the national discourse as we do women issues.

C. Men who have been abusers and recovered need to share their experiences

D. Allow the conversation to be that women and men complement each other, not compete against each other. We have male conferences to discuss “toxic masculinity” and women conferences to discuss “Breaking the glass ceiling.” That narrative must change to also discuss males in a positive forward-moving dynamic way, not negative. “What is spoken, becomes awoken.”