Male empowerment? What’s that?

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The very idea that men may need to be empowered is enough to raise eyebrows, even among men themselves, as they recognise that they operate in a society that is built on and perpetuates patriarchy.
After all, empowerment speaks to providing the most vulnerable an avenue to escape whatever circumstance they are in. Surely, men do not number among the most vulnerable in our society, right?
“Empowerment takes many forms. To me and what we are trying to achieve, empowerment, in this instance, speaks about support and encouragement and motivation for each other,” Colin Jenkins of the Male Empowerment Network (MEN) explained to OBSERVER media.
“Because while we are living in a patriarchal society, one can appreciate that there are certain underpinning issues that men face in which they themselves, at times, are not given the support because of that mentality that men are strong, that men should not be emotional, and men pretty much  have a leg up on everything.”
Jenkins said that they are trying to address that stereotype – since it isn’t always the case – so that men who are in vulnerable situations could receive the help they need.
Jenkins, an architect by profession, was the initiator of MEN several years ago. He is reluctant to be credited as the founder, noting that the close-knit group grew “organically” with a few like-minded individuals after he pitched the idea to them. The notion, he said, stemmed from his readings on International Men’s Day, which he stumbled on accidentally back in 2012.  The U.N. day was observed on Sunday.
“Reading the objectives of what they were trying to accomplish I thought to myself, well in Antigua we have similar issues, suicide rates, men not doing as well as their female counterparts in school, health issues, violence generally, perpetrating it and receiving it … all these things affect us but it’s not out there,” Jenkins said.  
So what exactly does MEN do?
According to Jenkins, they started by having conversations in the media before graduating to the creation of several videos highlighting men’s issues, which they shared on social media.
That was last year.
“This year we have done another social media campaign, a little different, where we addressed our thoughts on a wider scale with some hashtags,” Jenkins said.
He noted that that was just what was visible to the public, but far from the totality of their efforts. According to Jenkins, behind the scenes they provide a space where men can air the issues which affect them and receive feedback or support from other men without any judgment.
“You don’t typically find that kind of support system existing. Yes we hear the normal term of going to the barbershop or on the block, but those avenues may not necessarily provide the sort of mentoring and in-depth conversation as maybe having somewhere that is a bit more private.”
MEN also does interventions with the Boys’ Training School, Jenkins said, or reach out to the boys and young men within their friendship circles.  But MEN is not open to the man on the street. There are no walk-ins, no application forms nor strict organisational structure. What they have is a guiding principle, and that is to create a
comfortable environment where men can shed their facades. Therapy without the couch.
“We can appreciate that when it comes to these social interventions it takes time and so the idea is to change the culture, and the persons who would have been a part of it eventually would share it with persons in their environment and so forth.”
According to Jenkins, if you can change the “psyche” of a person for the better, then there is a likelihood of positive changes in the way they relate to others.
And while MEN isn’t looking to create a fraternity, Jenkins added that they will have sessions where they invite others that they believe need the help, but this will only happen once the group feels it has solidified the work it is doing. 
“There are persons within the network who are managers, who are university graduates, who are thinkers, who are regular people. So if you have a situation where everyone from all these different social status is speaking to you on a level that shows appreciation it gives you that strength, so there’s no one that looks down on you.”
According to Jenkins: “The support within itself is empowerment.”

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