Men were put under the spotlight Wednesday during International Women’s Day celebrations at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.
Keynote speaker and gender scholar Jackson Katz implored men to step out of passive roles and take an active stand against sexual and domestic violence. He encouraged them to rethink the perception that such issues affect only women and consider the lasting impact violence also has on the development of boys and young men.
A sold-out crowd of around 300 sat in on the #BeBoldForChange program put on by the Family Resource Centre. Mr. Katz encouraged the audience of women, men and young people to set the bar higher for men.
Standing up for and with women
“All over the world, we need more men to stand up and stand with women as our partners and allies in this struggle. We need a paradigm shift in thinking about issues of gender violence,” Mr. Katz said.
“Right now, still in 2017, most people see the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence and sexual harassment and sexual abuse of children as women’s issues that some good men help out with.”
As the co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program, Mr. Katz has worked to engage athletic programs and the U.S. military in promoting healthy leadership and peer support to end violence.
He described men as both the primary perpetrators and the victims of societal violence, estimating that 25 percent to 40 percent of sexual assaults in the U.S. military are committed against men.
Mr. Katz drew a correlation between boys who experience trauma and an array of negative life outcomes, including incarceration and perpetuating cycles of abuse.
“Violence in the lives of boys and young men is an important predictor of negative outcomes. … There is no peace on the street if there is no peace at home. There is no peace in the community if there is no peace in the family,” he said.
“So much of the bad behavior committed by boys and men in the community and the world has at least part of its roots in violence and abuse in the lives of young men and boys.”
Mr. Katz is an advocate of the “bystander approach,” which implores peers to call out sexism, racism, bullying and other acts of aggression.
“This is bigger than intervention at the point of attack,” he said, explaining that the approach appeals to general attitudes and beliefs to create a more positive society.
Judith Seymour, director of the Department of Counselling Services, said she was encouraged by the number of men in the audience.
“Judging by the number of men in the room this evening, by having [Mr. Katz] as our keynote speaker, we are well on our way to accomplishing our mission of engaging more men in the gender equality discussion in the Cayman Islands,” she said.
Gender Affairs Minister Tara Rivers called the evening a battle cry to propel action on gender equality. She shared concerning statistics from a 2015 World Economic Report that highlighted growing income and employment disparity between men and women across the globe.
Ms. Rivers appealed to employers in the Cayman Islands, encouraging them to set targets for recruitment and retention of female workers. She pointed to salary transparency as a tool to combat wage gaps.
“[Gender equality] aims to create a workplace where women do not have to choose between taking care of her children or being a financial contributor to her household. Similarly, gender equality seeks to ensure that a man is not ashamed or is not shamed for taking on roles that would be seen as being ‘less than a man,’ for example, taking off a day to care for an elder parent,” she said.
“Men, we need your help. We need your help to answer this urgent call, and not just be passive supporters but active agents of change in the struggle for gender equality.”
The evening celebrated female Caymanian artists and athletes. A poetry reading by local artist Nasaria Suckoo-Chollette received resounding applause.
Ms. Suckoo-Chollette’s art was put on display alongside that of other artists, including Annikki Brown. The gallery also featured a display of local athlete profiles, including squash star Cathryn Hindess and Carifta medalist Lacee Barnes.