Influence is a powerful tool. We are all influenced by other people and social factors. Our first influences should be our parents or guardians. Today, many children are exposed to influences that negatively affect them too soon. One reason is that we place devices like smartphones and tablets into their hands and leave them to be partially raised by online content. Even content that is created for children can contain subliminal or sometimes overt messages, such as racism, violence and bigotry.
While some of us are natural born leaders people have an innate need to be led. That need is one of the reasons why many believe in God, the reason why many spiritual leaders are worshipped, and the reason why many depend on governments, prominent people in the society, elders and anyone they believe has answers.
In many instances, we may not realise that others are looking to us for inspiration. But perhaps we should always be cognisant. This should encourage us to strive to be the best versions of ourselves and perhaps we would see a better society emerge.
Over the years, we have witnessed many efforts to make positive impacts in our society. Some such efforts are honouring people who are influential. On Thursday evening, 25 influential women were honoured at the Pegasus Hotel. The 25 Influential Women Awards was the first of its kind in Guyana and was organised by The Nico Consulting Inc and Cerulean Incorporated. Entrepreneurs and social activists were among those awarded. It was another response to the under-representation of women. The Savannah Suite was packed as beautiful women and men gathered to witness the spectacular event. I felt that it was an effort of love and the overwhelming support showed that people appreciate such efforts.
As I listened and observed, I thought about all the activities I have attended over the last few years to celebrate women, whether they were International Women’s Day events or those organised by private citizens who decided to recognise and honour women. The fact that most of our leaders are still men and we are still enslaved by many patriarchal laws are all reasons for the push to highlight the success and value of women. But still, is it enough? Often most of these events are in Georgetown, but there are people worthy of being honoured in every part of our country. Women who are quietly influencing change in their communities, and often not for praise, they too need to be acknowledged. But is she who is uneducated, who lives in poverty or is silently dying in an abusive relationship seen and honoured as much as the CEOs, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers or activists? (Even though some women who appear confident and are successful could also be silently dying inside.)
The name Zaila Sugrim was mentioned and there was a moment of silence for her. She is the latest known victim of domestic violence. I thought about her husband, who police say has since confessed to murdering her. Almost two years ago, his picture was in the media as he stood with their daughter, who was a top student in the National Grade Six Assessment. Today, his face is in the news because he has left that child and four others without a mother and a father.
Many of our men in this society are in urgent need of an intervention. Whether they are hurt because their masculinity is being challenged by the empowerment of women or whether the influencers in their lives have failed them, our men need help. One only has to walk on most streets in most parts of Guyana to hear the derogatory views some men have about women. Every woman can testify to being sexually harassed at work, in public and even sometimes in their homes. Certainly, we need to continue empowering our women. But we also need to address our men. We are seeing the evidence every day that many are hurt, mentally unstable and are not equipped with the coping mechanisms that would lead to conflict resolution. While we may think that women are more vulnerable, men are often forced into hiding their weaknesses; they may repress their feelings to prove that they are in control and demand respect because society has taught them that to show any hints of weakness may mean that they are inferior and therefore not “man” enough.
There needs to be a national response to the needs of men in our society and it needs to start now. As much as we honour women, we need to also start honouring men because they too need it. It should start with the family. Work with the boys before the influences of those damaged before them causes them to repeat the same mistakes. For too long we have sat and debased men with little effort to help them and when they can no longer pretend or hide from the influences that have shaped them into the monsters some of them have become, there are often terrible consequences. Every time a man murders a woman or harms a child or in some other way causes outrage in our society, I am comforted by the fact that not all men are the same, that most are not brutes, and many are positive influences.
The efforts to honour women should be applauded. I am waiting to also stand and applaud just as many men. Recognition is not always about trophies or plaques, but the acknowledgment that someone is worthy may encourage them to do better. The movement to show and tell men that they too matter, that they too can be vulnerable, that they can love their women and not hurt them, that they can stand side by side with their partners and be great needs to start now. But who will take up the challenge?