Projects pilot ways to help men talk about the tough stuff

6:11 pm on 11 January 2023
Tim Marshall (left) and Cain Kerehoma look over a mind map of ideas on how Tairāwhiti tāne can communicate better.

Tim Marshall (left) and Cain Kerehoma look over a mind map of ideas on how Tairāwhiti tāne can communicate better. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

A project in Tairāwhiti is one of two in the country piloting ways to help men talk about the tough stuff that's well away from the confines of a pub.

It is funded through the Ministry of Social Development's campaign for action on family violence. One project is in Tauranga, the other in Gisborne.

In Tairāwhiti, social services are asking the question: "He aha tēnei mea te tānetanga?" or "What does it mean to be a man?".

Tim Marshall, the co-ordinator of Tuawhi Men's Centre, a drop-in centre for men, who is co-leading the project in Gisborne said it was about "having community conversations with men about what it means to be a man or tāne in Tairāwhiti".

"We don't naturally as men have spaces that allow us to communicate with each other in terms of what's going on for us - especially the tough stuff. We tend to default to places where it's not maybe that healthy to do that, like go to the pub and have a few beers, and then we all start talking about everything and then probably maybe some things we don't want to talk about.

"We don't have these conversations naturally over morning tea at work for example - somebody's going through a bit of tough and it's not a natural situation that we're all going to sit around and go 'aw hey bro, how are we going to help you work out this problem?' People are like either 'I don't want to load my problems on my workmates' or actually 'bro, no, I don't think I can help you with that, It's not in my thing'.

"But all we need a lot of the time is somebody to listen and if we could get us as men to just be able to be prepared to listen to our mates ... that's probably part of the solution going forward."

Marshall said they were trying to find places where men could naturally communicate.

"There are some places that are naturally happening in our community, we want to enhance those. There's a group that meets at one of the marae here and do whaikōrero and mōteatea but after they have an hour and a half they're sitting around having a cup of tea and a conversation. There's a Menzshed down in the subdivision where they go and build stuff for their mokopuna and things like that, but over that time they're talking to one another."

The advantage of having these conversations was "being able to offload what's going on for you", Marshall said.

"One of the things that traditionally we've been told as men is the 'harden up' mentality and that hasn't served us well. When men get under the pressure, they either hurt out, that's hurting other people in their lives, or they're hurt in, which is hurting ourselves, and we dominate statistics in both parts - dominate the sharpest end of family violence, and we dominate the sharpest end of ending our lives. So that's really what we want to do - change those really."

Cain Kerehoma is the co-director of Kia Ora Consulting, whose "catch cry" he said was "less hui, more doey".

With Marshall and a team of about 15 men, they talked about how they could become better men. They suggested they needed closer ties with the likes of matauranga Māori, māra kai (food gardening) communication and whare tapa whā (Māori health) to name a few of many ideas.

Kerehoma said they slowly came up with ways to communicate better.

"One was sort of neighbourhood barbecues, so how do we create more connections just more ways to have chats, not specifically about violence, just create connections and community - and kai's always a great way of bringing people together. The other one was really using humour and so thinking about how do we set up a comedy club ... and a place where can we talk about failure but in a really safe way. We talk about success, we talk about all the kind of good things but where can we go and talk about the hard bits or the bits we don't get?"

In a statement, the Ministry for Social Development's general manager for safe strong families and communities Mark Henderson said the two groups in Tairāwhiti and Tauranga were getting over $400,000 in total.

Tauranga had received $196,000 in funding and Gisborne received $100,000 in the first part of the project, where men met to discuss what changes could be made.

Both were set to get $100,000 in the next phase of the project, where the initiatives such as the barbecues and comedy clubs would be rolled out. The project is currently between phases.

"These projects are an innovative approach to addressing men's intimate partner violence," Henderson said.

"Much of this work, both in New Zealand and internationally, has focused on addressing the challenges and risks of individual behaviour. Comparatively little attention has been given to the impact of their environments on positive or negative behaviour."

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