Monday, April 23, 2018

Building a strong future

Next Gen Men is an  initiative working hard to help men and young boys engage towards creating a future built on the values of non-violence, and to dismantle toxic masculinity. Jason Tan De Bibliana, one of the key members on the team, shares his story and nuggets of knowledge from his journey as part of Next Gen Men, so far.

1) Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself, your growing years, education and work to the extent that you are comfortable sharing?

For sure! I’m a public health and education researcher, focused on gender equity, men, and masculinities, gender-based violence prevention and healthy relationships, and mental health and peer support. I sometimes tell people that I studied public health because I was interested in everything to do with health and social justice, and -- for better or for worse -- I still am!

I came to the work around gender equity through volunteering and working as a youth sexual health educator and facilitator, and recognizing the opportunity and the need to support boys and men in thinking critically about gender and ‘what it means to be a man?’

For the past few years now, I’ve been really immersed in this work with Next Gen Men. I’m really proud of the impact that we are having, grateful for the opportunities to continue to learn and grow, and excited for what’s next!

2) What is the story of your work with Next Gen Men? How did the initiative come about?

Next Gen Men is a Canadian nonprofit organization focused on building better men through peer engagement, education, and empowerment. We do this by engaging boys and men in conversations around gender, with the goal of improving men’s health and wellbeing, ending all forms of violence, and achieving gender equity.

We founded the organization in 2014, after learning about a sexual health education program for young men in Calgary that sounded like something we wished we had when we were younger -- it was a group specifically for guys, led by relatable male facilitators from outside of the school, and in addition to learning about sexual health, they talked about what it means to ‘be a man’ and how to challenge gender stereotypes and discrimination.

Thanks to start-up funding from the Movember Foundation, we were able to launch an initiative of our own and since then, Next Gen Men has been growing as an organization and a movement for healthier masculinities and gender equity with boys, men, and people of all genders. It’s been an amazing journey and I am always so glad to be doing this work with the amazing teammates and partners and community that are a part of Next Gen Men.

3) What are some of the key work areas / activities at NGM?

Right now, we are focused on three main programs at Next Gen Men. Our programs are defined by different groups and settings that we work with, but they all aim to address the same issues that are connected to gender and masculinity: destigmatizing and supporting mental and emotional health, practicing healthier relationships and empathy for others, challenging gender roles and stereotypes, and much, much more.

Our youth program is all about engaging, educating, and empowering the next generation of men to challenge gender roles and stereotypes, take care of their health and support their peers, and make a positive impact on their communities. We facilitate after-school programs and workshops with boys and young men, as well as teachers and other youth workers.

Wolf Pack is our initiative to create space for the conversations that men don’t normally have. We host events in a fun, informal atmosphere that are open to people of all genders, and tackle a whole range of topics from body image and sex to stress and mental health.

Equity Leaders is our initiative through which we are engaging men to change workplace and organizational culture around gender equity. This is an exciting and important area as we know that gender equity is not just the right thing to do - it’s better for business and stronger, more supportive organizations.

We always know that there’s more work to be done, but never enough time and resources! But we do hope that the work that we are doing inspires others, as we’ve been inspired ourselves.

4) You work in the domain of shifting mindsets towards a violence free society, which means you work to address some rather deeply ingrained views and issues. Could you take us through some insights on any challenges you've encountered and how you address them?

In our work with boys and men, I often think about two important challenges.

The first challenge is, how do you get boys and men to take the first step ‘in the door’ to start learning about gender, masculinity, feminism, patriarchy and everything else? In other words, what’s your hook for the ‘average joe’?

For example with our youth programs, it might be the opportunity to build friendships outside of school, to spend time with a cool male role model, or fun activities , and a field trip. For Wolf Pack, it’s the happy hour, networking type of gathering that appeals to people our age, with a bit more substance and social impact. For Equity Leadersour workplace programs, it might be the opportunity to strengthen the emotional intelligence of leaders and managers, improve workplace culture and practices, and ultimately boost the bottom line of the company.

The second challenge is, what do you actually do to effectively use your time together when they are ‘in the door’? In other words, how do you shift mindsets and promote positive actions?

A lot of this is about skilled facilitation and meeting everyone in the group where they are at. It’s about having enough time together to create a safe space for vulnerability, critical reflection, and learning and working through some challenging ideas. It’s about having a gender-transformative, strengths-based approach that looks at how gender norms and stereotypes are harmful to people of all genders, and how men and boys can be a positive part of the solution.

5) As a movement, what do you feel the world needs in its efforts towards gender equality? What is preventing that from happening or being available?

Unfortunately, gender inequalities persist in all different types of places and ages, so there really are opportunities everywhere to support movement and progress towards gender equity. I do believe that things are moving in the right direction, and I also believe that everyone can make a meaningful contribution to this change.

In our work, we’ve seen that many boys and men haven’t had the opportunity to talk about gender and masculinity and that this can often be an entry point into supporting gender equity. I think we have to keep finding ways to open up these entry points and opportunities to bring boys and men further along into the efforts towards gender equity.

Another concern for us is the movements against feminism and gender equity, which can bring boys and men in the opposite direction. Some of this is in response to the societal shifts and progress that has been made, and some of it has just been the status quo for so long. It’s really important for us to understand the experiences that lead to these points of view, to not write anyone off, and to believe in everyone’s capacity to change and grow.

6) Can you share any anecdotes and success stories from your work so far?

Yes! We’ve had lots of small and big successes over the years.
In our youth program this year, we’ve been branching out from our main age group of 12-14 year-olds in junior high schools to work with more high schools, as well as parents and teachers. I also think we have had some really powerful conversations around mental health and peer support this year. For Equity Leaders, we have been working in-depth with senior male leaders at a tech company, and it has been really encouraging to hear how they are more aware of gender equity in the workplace and are starting to see opportunities where they can put it into practice. Next fall, we’re hoping to launch some new programming with varsity athletes in universities, which we’re really excited about, and I’m sure will generate lots of learnings and stories to share.