It has been an overwhelmingly enriching experience to meet so many men who dedicate their lives and energy to helping other men and truly developing healthier communities for all, it leaves me with a great sense of optimism for the future.
The (Australasian) National Men’s Health Gathering occurred in Brisbane over the period 22 to 25 October 2013, with some 260 delegates attending from Australia, New Zealand and internationally.
Day one of the Gathering was dedicated to the 7th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Male Health Convention.
A highlight of the opening session was a “welcome to country” Aboriginal dance and song giving insight into the aboriginal culture and its deep connection with nature and the land in which, prior to European colonization, they lived in continuous harmony longer than any other known people.
The families, kinship’s groupings and nations of peoples systematically dismantled and dispossessed of their lands, coupled with the imposition of many of the worst aspects western ways directly impact on the current plight of aboriginal peoples with respect to loss of their traditional culture, poor health in general but poor men’s health in particular.
These themes were echoed in the analysis of Maori men’s health given by Maori Public Health Physician Dr Rhys Jones, who sees progress toward improving Maori men’s health, being dependent not only on reconnecting with traditional culture but improving educational opportunities to allow for the training of more Maori health professionals, and better education generally, as a driver of employment and stability.
Aboriginal health academic Randal Ross reported on the “Red Dust Healing” project, which aims to reconnect aboriginal men with their cultural roles in families as fathers. He sees removal of fathers from families as one of the key ways in which European colonization controlled and attempted to destroy aboriginal culture. The role of men in taking over from women in leading the development of boys through their adolescence and initiation into manhood was critical to healthy traditional communities.
This is described as “holding,” women hold the boy as a baby and infant but then pass the holding role to the men. It is increasingly recognized that fatherlessness and lack of culturally appropriate rites of passage for many adolescent boys is a key driver of community discord and poorer health , education and social outcomes.
Much of the focus of this first day was on programs aimed to engage, heal and reaffirm the valued role of aboriginal men in their families and communities. These prime social factors along with improving employment and reducing poverty are known critical determinants of health. Many successful aboriginal men’s groups are operating throughout the country the Gamarada Men’s Self Healing Program in Sydney and the Innisfail Cassowary Coast Men’s Group were 2 of the many showcased. The dedication and enthusiasm for helping men and the results demonstrated for these programs was truly uplifting.
Day two saw the commencement of the Tenth National Men’s Health Conference. The program kicked off with a presentation by Richard Aston, NZ- chief executive of Big Buddy, a mentoring program for fatherless boys.
The statistics on fatherlessness are confronting, as is the knowledge that 80% of young offenders who enter the juvenile justice system in NZ originate from fatherless backgrounds. One of the biggest obstacles to setting up the program was the perception that men interested in mentoring boys were likely to be pedophiles. It required the development of a valid screening system that not only alleviated such concerns but also positively empowered those men willing to take on this role to do so without shame or suspicion. Ninety percent of men offering to be involved were accepted. Overwhelming the program has been shown to have a positive impact on the boys, the men who mentor, but more broadly on the men’s and boys families.
Professor Alan White holds the distinction of being the first person appointed as a professor of Men’s Health, and gave a rich presentation illustrating the gender gap in health with a focus on the disparity men face in the countries’ of the European Union. Perhaps his nursing background helps explain one significant disconnect not lost on many of in the audience. Whilst clearly a passionate supporter of men, fathers and families, he has also been instrumental in and apparently supportive of, the EU’s frequently misandric gender equality agenda.
There were many concurrent “break out sessions” and it was disappointing to have to choose between sometimes 5 or 6 alternate presentations or workshops.
One session was devoted to presenting research around the Australian Men’s Sheds Association. There is a growing body of evidence supporting the community benefits of men’s sheds which will help in continuing to make government funding available to help establish news sheds. Men’s Sheds have now become international phenomena with many sheds in Ireland, and the first ones appearing in the UK and Canada. Two occupational therapy honors students presented their research documenting improvements in well being for shed attendees suffering from depression and disability respectively.
Dr. Arne Rubinstein presented a valuable workshop on 21 Century Rites of Passage for Boys. Arne a general practitioner left medical practice to work with youth after being deserted by his wife and left to raise two young sons. He discovered that what was missing for many young men was a culturally sanctioned rite of passage for adolescent boys as existed in every known culture studied. The increasing absence of fathers led boys to replace such rites of passage with harmful alternatives. His Pathways program developed a process based on the traditional aims but adapted to contemporary society. It has been hugely successful, and many similar programs are thriving here and abroad.
There have been many other great sessions including a keynote forum “21st Century Man – The Way Forward” featuring Dr. Gary Misan (University of SA, New Male Studies), Glen Poole (Helping Men), Dr. Arne Rubinstein (as above) and Dr. Warren Farrell.
It is hoped that excerpts of this session will be broadcast on AVFM radio in the near future, and subsequently video of the full session should be available.
The conference closes today but it has been an overwhelmingly enriching experience to meet so many men who dedicate their lives and energy to helping other men and truly developing healthier communities for all, it leaves me with a great sense of optimism for the future.
- NACCHO press release:NACCHO launches new Aboriginal Health in Aboriginal Hands App (nacchocommunique.com)
- NACCHO health news:How to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal youth: a new report (nacchocommunique.com)