"Gender is not just about women. Men are under social pressure to be masculine," said Mio Akita, community liaison associate and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteer at the Bureau of Gender Affairs.
The audience was third-form students of Jamaica College, who converged at Karl Hendrickson Auditorium to hear Akita decipher some preconceived notions, behaviours and issues revolving around healthy masculinity, to create a healthy society.
One of the key topics of discussion that day was toxic masculinity.
"It is important," Akita said, "to understand toxic masculinity, which is characterised by excessive self-reliance, restriction of emotions and dominance.
"This," she continued, "is not only harmful to men, but women and society."
As a result of this toxic behaviour, according to Akita, men experience a range of issues from mental-health problems to substance abuse, violence and, in extreme cases, injuries and suicide.
Her presentation touched upon various areas which are generally overlooked in the grand scheme of societal norms and expected behaviours. Most times, without understanding and addressing the root causes, men become subjects of scrutiny.
"Research shows men who conformed strongly to masculine norms (broadly described as that of status, toughness and anti-femininity) tend to have poorer mental health and have less favourable attitudes towards seeking psychological help."
There are more questions that are asked than answers that can be given in this regard, according to Akita, and there is a clear and definitive need to change the mindsets and approach.
Akita's presentation was a part of the Bureau of Gender Affairs' annual school education programme, which involves visits to schools, where gender-based issues are highlighted, discussed and possible solutions recommended to deal with them.
As a part of her mandate with the bureau to promote gender equality in Jamaica, Akita creates communication and public-education materials, including content for social media.
She disseminates information on the Bureau of Gender Affairs' activities, policies and gender-related programmes, and assists the agency with community sensitisation solutions, programme development and survey data processing.
She said after touching upon these subjects and the complexities evolving from them, most students, especially in all-boys schools, say that they feel men enjoy privileges, are aggressive and violence perpetrators in all sense.
"Men are victims too," Akita said. "According to studies, in the United States, one in four men experience physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime."
And most of these cases, she continued, go unreported.
The solutions to move to the positive and healthy traits, among others, she said, are to seek help and freely express one's emotions, and having the courage to exercise responsible behaviours.
"A study conducted in the United Kingdom shows that males who exhibited traits of healthy masculinity had lower death rates from coronary heart disease," she said.
Then there is the question of promiscuity, which Akita strongly advised the youngsters to desist from.
"Having one partner is healthy; from lower risks of contracting HIV and STIs, it provides greater social stability," she said. "When a father is physically and emotionally present at home, it creates a healthy environment and better relationship patterns.
"And you will live longer," she said.
It is a long and challenging journey to build ideal-case scenarios for masculine behaviours, but at the end of the day, Akita said, it would be worth the effort.
The solutions are simple. Channels for honest communication, without prejudice or preconceived notions - such as imbibing best practices and apprising young men of cultural sensitivities - need to be opened.
No one is perfect, but efforts can be made to overcome the imperfections and try to make a perfect world.
- The trip to Jamaica College was facilitated by Japan International Cooperation Agency as a part of their press tour to visit some of the grass-roots and development assistance projects undertaken by the organisation in Jamaica. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.