Monday, October 24, 2005

The Forgotten Men

African migrants and refugees are making the most of their new life in Australia. But there is a crisis of confidence among the new arrivals.

Nevertheless, recent development in capacity building has provided a unique opportunity to empower the African men, strengthen relationships, and keep families together.

Rene Weal knows a thing or two about the plight of the new families in the process of transition. She is the coordinator of the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) program in South Australia and member of staff of the Department of Health.

In response to the alarming rate of family breakdowns in African communities in Australia today, Rene has become increasingly aware of the need to support African men (as well as women) in their struggle for adaptation and survival.

As a professional service provider, and a very good one at that, Rene’s aim is to “empower and support African men as the pillars of the emerging communities”; forming a support group for those in distress – the first of its kind in the country.

These are the forgotten men with no hope (the war victims from way back), men who have lost everything, and who are still being traumatized by the memory of Africa’s long wars, famine, death, and destruction.

What the Dickens are we going to do to soften their pain? We must bring African men back in from the cold, so to speak, and come to terms with their needs – thereby, supporting their transition to the new society.

In actual fact, the new arrivals are suffering because of the combination of several factors: culture shock, language barriers, and loss of power and status in the new and challenging environment.

It has been widely acknowledged that while there are a number of groups providing social support for women, very little has been done to support African men during the early days of arrival – a period of confusion and realisation, coupled with a sense of bottomless uncertainty.

In recent years, there has been some wailing and gnashing of teeth as African men struggle to make sense of the world around them.

Thus, having lost their power and status in the new dispensation, they suddenly realise that life is no longer what it used to be. Even the vital role of “breadwinner” or “head of household” has been taken way from them, as a new type of family relationship emerges and the old values give way to the new.

Consequently, they believe, they can no longer control their family. Nor discipline. Nor punish. Nor protect their wives as they used to do in the old country; hence the emergence of status anxiety as a significant problem of adaptation for African men. Yet, they know not where to turn in times of crisis.

The nature of this crisis highlights the feelings of anxiety, disorientation, misunderstanding and frustration.

The plight of African men in Australian society does not always feature prominently in the timing and sequencing of service delivery to the new comers during the early days of arrival. But the situation is rapidly changing. Thanks to Rene Weal!

In fact, Rene has worked tirelessly with the new families to address this issue. She has consulted very widely with key people in the new and emerging African communities; including men in distress.

She is the first social worker to focus on the plight of the new families and the precarious position of African men.

Furthermore, she is the first woman to come to terms with the proposition that educating African men on the essential elements of the Australian family law can expedite the process of adaptation to the realities of the new social order.

Indeed, there is a groundswell of support for Rene’s work with the African families here and her views are well respected by all concerned.

Now, it is generally accepted that capacity building in the new and emerging African communities demands what Rene Weal describes as the “empowerment and orientation” of African men and women as soon as they arrive in Australia.

And educating African men on all aspects of equal opportunity in Australia is a good starting point - a potent instrument of enlightenment and capacity building.
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