IMD Background

International Men’s Day gathering in Australia, 1994

International Men’s Day gathering in Australia, 1994

 
Calls for an International Men’s Day have been noted since at least the 1960’s when it was reported that “Many men have been agitating privately to make Feb 23 International Men’s Day, the equivalent of March 8, which is International Women’s day” (New York Times, Feb 24 1969).

Since that time there have been persistent international calls for the creation of an IMD, occasionally in the form of rhetorical questions – “Why do women have an international celebration and not men?” and more commonly in the form of statements like “Men’s contributions and concerns deserve a day of recognition in their own right” i.e. not merely by analogy with International Women’s Day.

Proposed objectives of an International Men’s Day include a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It is also suggested as an occasion whereby men may highlight discrimination against them and celebrate their positive achievements and contributions.

In recent decades there have occurred a number of short-lived attempts at establishing an IMD in individual countries (eg. Canada, France, USA, Colombia, and Russia) with the hope that these gestures would be witnessed abroad by others who might follow suit and join in by celebrating their own IMD. Whilst small celebrations of this nature were apparently observed in a handful of countries, they suffered a lack of publicity necessary to reach interested parties abroad, and the initiatives were not continued.

In the early 1990s the first attempt to create a global IMD movement saw organizations in the United States, Europe, and Australia hold events in February at the invitation of Professor Thomas Oaster who directed the Missouri Center for Men’s Studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Oaster successfully promoted the event in 1993-1994, but his following attempt in 1995 was poorly attended and he ceased plans to continue the event in subsequent years. While the Australians also ceased to observe the event again until November 19, 2003, the original Maltese Association for Men’s Rights continued to observe the event each year in February.

As the single remaining country still observing the earlier February celebration, the Maltese AMR Committee voted in 2009 to shift the date of their observation to November 19 in line with several countries that had come to celebrate on the newer date of November 19 which was promoted in Trinidad and Tobago by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh in 1999. The Caribbean initiated event grew slowly, but after the formation and work of the 2008-09 IMD steering Committee it received significantly increased support. Dr. Teelucksingh states, ” My early efforts at observing and promoting International Men’s Day were not successful. There was a disappointing public response as the first observances attracted only 5 to 10 persons. And, most of the times, members of my family comprised half the audience! The government and private businesses in my country were not interested in International Men’s Day… . The steering committee of 2008 proved to be a powerful catalyst which contributed to the rapid spread of IMD.”

The IMD Steering Committee of 2008 – 2009 consisted of five persons. This core group came together through casual discussions and all were eager to increase awareness about IMD and to foster it’s growth into more nations. Perhaps the most significant achievement of the steering committee was to discuss and ratify six objectives of International Men’s Day which would serve to protect the core values of the day and offer a reliable reference point for future celebrants. The ‘six pillars’ of IMD are:

1. To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sports men but everyday, working class men who are living decent, honest lives.
2. To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment
3. To focus on men’s health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
4. To highlight discrimination against males; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law
5. To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
6. To create a safer, better world; where people can live free from harm and grow to reach their full potential.

 
Having achieved success in raising the profile of the event during those two years it was decided to dissolve the ‘group of five’ in favour of a more representative international group which would become known as the IMD Coordinators Network consisting of scores of individuals worldwide. The formation of the Coordinators Network List in 2010, whereby any persons could nominate themselves and be automatically placed on the list as a national or regional coordinator, ensured that the future of IMD was placed in the hands of the many, as opposed to a few, allowing the event to progress as a truly grassroots movement with no core management.

The one recommendation to new coordinators was that they agree to be guided by the six objectives of IMD (as above) and the official Diversity and Equality Statement

DIVERSITY AND EQUALITY STATEMENT

We encourage every man, woman, boy and girl in the world to join us in celebrating men and boys in all their diversity on International Men’s Day (November 19th).

We recognize that there are a broad variety of laws, values and viewpoints around the world that affect different men, in different countries in different ways. There is also a diversity of opinions about those laws, values and viewpoints which are held by the many different men, women, boys and girls throughout the world.

As a day of observance we place our focus on that which unites humanity- giving everyone who wants to celebrate International Men’s Day the opportunity to help work towards our shared objectives which we apply equally to men and boys irrespective of their age, ability, social background, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, religious belief and relationship status.

 
Due to the persistent networking and invitations sent to individuals in other nations International Men’s Day has taken root on the international scene, and the initiative is now independently celebrated in countries as diverse as Singapore, Australia, India, Pakistan, United Kingdom, United States, South Africa, Haiti, Jamaica, Hungary, Malta, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Spain, Wales, and Canada and interest in the event is increasing rapidly.

During the past ten years methods of commemorating International Men’s Day have included public seminars, classroom activities at schools, radio and television programs, peaceful gatherings and marches, awards ceremonies, and art displays. The manner of observing this annual day is optional; any organizations are welcome to host their own events and any appropriate forums can be used.

Early pioneers of IMD reminded that the day is not intended to compete against International Woman’s Day, but is for the purpose of highlighting men’s experiences. Each year secondary themes are suggested, such as peace in 2002, men’s health in 2003, or Tackling our tolerance of violence against men and boys in 2013, although it is not compulsory to adopt these themes and participants are welcome to come up with their own to suit their needs and local concerns.

Documenting International Men’s Day

 
While IMD is presently a grassroots event it is rapidly becoming an organized global phenomenon, necessitating documentation of it’s initial flourishing for those observing the event into the future. The following recounts an initial attempt at clarifying the early phase of the IMD movement, and the general intent of the event, whilst being aware that in writing such a ‘narrative’ I am laying a basis for future discussions.

I first became interested in International Men’s Day after chancing upon a Wikipedia entry on the subject in 2007. This short account (see below) was the only attempt at a comprehensive statement to-date. After searching for more information I realized the Wikipedia entry presented some curious anomalies that didn’t fit with the snippets of information I was reading elsewhere, such as the Wikipedia mention that Michael Gorbachev created the day –a claim bruted widely based on this mention– while other webpages mentioned Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh was the founder. As it turned out both Gorbachev and Teelucksingh were involved in different men’s events, and neither was the founder of IMD – the true founder turned out to be an earlier worker in men’s issues, Thomas Oaster.

The event that Gorbachev patronised was not a globally observed International Men’s Day but an centralized Austrian awards event named ‘Men’s world Day’ which consisted primarily in a presentation ceremony to recognize men who have made a major contribution to society (the awards event has ceased to be observed as of 2006). The event which Dr. Teelucksingh promoted was the decentralised International Men’s Day, observed annually in a variety of locations around the world on November 19. The facts about these two events had become conflated and needed disentangling. After reading more about the Austrian event I created a separate Wikipedia stub entitled Men’s World Day and shifted all mention of the Gorbachev sponsored event to there.

A second error occurring in the Wikipedia article was a claim that IMD was already celebrated in numerous countries but on differing dates of the year. Nations cited as already celebrating the event included Poland and Slovenia (March 10), Norway (October 7), Hungary (May 19), Colombia (March 23) United Kingdom and Ireland (April 5), Canada (November 25), and Russia and Kyrgyzstan (February 23) and the Wikipedia article declared that these dates “have essentially become these countries’ version of International Men’s Day.” This claim also turned out to be false because the above-mentioned countries were in fact celebrating unrelated traditions such as the Russian and Kyrgyzstan observation of ‘Defender of the Fatherland Day’; in Hungary the ‘Nameday of Ivó and Milán’; in Poland and Slovenia the ‘Forty Martyrs of Sebaste’; and in Colombia, ‘Saint Joseph Day’. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether there ever occurred events in the UK and Ireland on April 5, nor in Canada on November 25, which seemed more likely fanciful overtures betraying the wish to organise an IMD event rather than an actual record of events which took place.

To further complicate matters there appeared some confusion as to what exactly qualified as an ‘International Men’s Day’ to begin with, with this title sometimes being applied to isolated/localised men’s conferences to which international guests were invited. For instance, a men’s conference held consecutively for 5 years in Ottawa during the late 1990’s applied to itself the ‘International Men’s Day’ title despite the fact it was not observed in any other international location. Such broad applications of the ‘IMD’ tag, if accepted as a standard definition, would have the effect of placing the first International Women’s and Men’s Days back thousands of years into history, there being numerous localized men’s or women’s gatherings throughout history with various foreigners in attendance.

Further, there are currently men’s day celebrations which occur in one country on certain dates that are best qualified as National Men’s Days despite the occasional use of the ‘international’ tag. A few national men’s celebrations take place in countries like China on August 3, Brazil on July 15, Poland on September 30, Norway on November 8, and there are remnants of World Men’s Day (Austria on Nov 3, and Russia on first Saturday in November) although there have been recently established in each of these countries celebrations of the International Men’s Day on November 19. Time will tell if these national celebrations align more strongly with the internationally celebrated date or whether there will remain a comfortable coexistence of national and international days in those countries. With these “men’s day” variations in mind I have chosen to limit the definition of International Men’s Day, on the IMD website, to any continuous annual event observed in more than one country on an agreed date.

During the process of checking these facts it became apparent that important information was missing from the Wikipedia account, including mention that groups in other countries such as Australia, India, and Jamaica had previously joined in celebrating IMD with celebrants from Trinidad and Tobago. Moreover, there had been significant attempts at establishing IMD prior to the Caribbean attempt, such as the Kansas effort in the early 1990’s which was taken up in some parts of the world.

Without any organized and accurate public record it was unlikely that the small, isolated celebrations that were then taking place would catch the attention of potential new participants. Also required by potential new IMD participants would be some knowledge that the event was not created nor controlled by radical fringe groups, and that it possessed social integrity worthy of organisational and individual endorsement. Both points suggested that only after gathering and publicly documenting all efforts into a coherent whole might then new organizations be inspired to join in. In hindsight this has certainly proven true, with a large increase in global awareness resulting from this website and from the work of a handful of highly dedicated IMD coordinators.

As a grassroots movement IMD has suffered from a lack of recording, making it difficult for subsequent researchers to reconstruct a history. This website therefore is an attempt to document the main threads of IMD activity and to capture some representative examples of localised celebrations. While I have been diligent in gathering examples it is certain there are efforts that did occur which my searching did not unearth. For anyone wishing to investigate further, the folklore and written clues can be pursued to further add to our understanding of the fragments constituting the early movement.

Much material in the present account came to light through searches of the world wide web. When I was unable to complete a picture or needed more information I mailed key individuals whose names and contacts I was able to locate. The information offered herein represents only a portion of the historical account, albeit a significant portion, and while there may be occasional errors I have tried on the whole to adhere strictly to recorded information. The Historical Archive of this website provides an overview of both an early history and subsequent development of the event.

Popularizing International Men’s Day

 
IMD is an occasion to promote positive male role models, celebrate men’s positive contributions to the world, improve gender relations, promote gender equality, and to create a safer less-violent world. Of these Dr. Teelucksingh has laid importance on promoting positive male role models, “not just movie stars and sports men but everyday, working class men who are living decent, honest lives”. The emphasis here is to remind that men and boys benefit by role models who can be emulated in everyday situations; at school, in the home, as parents, as workers, as partners and as friends, and not only as sports enthusiasts. Other possibilities afforded by IMD are the opportunities to highlight and redress gender inequality in areas of health, law and education, to redress unfair and narrow stereotyping of males, and to celebrate a variety of masculinities.

Having researched the beginnings of this event I became hooked by these and more wonderful possibilities for men, and with others continue to lobby international organizations and individuals to join the celebration. In the past some organisations had held localised men’s days (eg. Maltese Association for Men’s Rights on Feb 7; and POMESA and NAPWA of South Africa on Dec 6). After networking these organisations came to appreciate the advantages of joining a unified international movement to foster cooperation and solidarity. In 2008-09 I received commitments from various organizations in Europe, Africa, New Zealand and the Americas notifying of their intention to join November celebrations in 2009 and beyond. These gestures of solidarity would vastly increase exposure of IMD and rescue the event from public obscurity where it lay.

Popularizing IMD internationally was a relatively effortless task in the context of an increasingly negative global discourse about males elaborated over the last 40 years which has encouraged indiscriminate stereotyping, denigration of, and concomitant neglect of males in areas of education, health needs, social services and law, and also in their sense of social and personal wellbeing. Without that sense of wellbeing men and boys have been demonstrating a lowered motivation to contribute to the building of personal relationships or to the creation of healthy growing societies, this due to the distorted belief that any contributions would be unappreciated, and indeed unwelcome.

The path for many young men who have come to feel ‘forced out’ by negative stereotyping has been to ‘drop out’. Many males have dropped out of school and society and dropped into drugs, gangs, violence, isolation, depression or suicide. Knowledge of this problem required no explanation to persons approached to participate in an International Men’s Day -men and women from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and world views- as the problem had installed itself around the world and the majority of people were hungry for something, anything, which might turn the negative discourse around or at least balance that viewpoint with some needed positive discourse. The need to re-engage men and boys was obvious and IMD provided the platform from which to foster appreciation and encourage males back into participation with the world.

The idea of an International Men’s Day was spreading, but due to language barriers IMD had not yet reached into nations of non-English speaking persons, necessitating translations of the IMD agenda which I undertook with the use of electronic translation technology or by commissioning others to translate into Spanish, German, French, Russian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Finnish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Scandinavian languages, and so on. These translations were placed on Wikipedia and on various websites devoted to IMD, and then various individuals/organisations in each of these language centres were approached -translation of IMD objectives in hand- inviting them to participate. Once participation was agreed and firm event plans were laid, details were added to the Global IMD Website.

Another, profitable approach was to trawl the WWW in search of individuals, in various countries, who had openly wondered if an IMD existed, or had otherwise proposed that one be established. By locating thousands of such mentions it was possible to email the individuals and start a conversation about the possibilities of joining IMD with some small or large observation. The resultant enthusiasm was remarkable and a significant number of those contacted pledged to immediately set about planning for an observation, and to spreading the word in their region. Again, once any firm observances were planned and convincing press releases were issued the various plans were added to the IMD website under the relevant country.

The gradual expansion of the current website served as a significant encouragement to individuals who would soon make contact expressing their wish to observe the event, with ensuing discussions resulting in the formation of plans to celebrate. People who approached directly through the website came from a variety of countries including Mexico, Argentina, United Kingdom, Singapore, Austria, Pakistan, Grenada, Guyana, Zimbabwe, Mexico and others.

The strategy to encourage a relatively united event was deliberate, as the previous scattered voices calling for the establishment of IMD in different regions, on different days of the year, with different objectives, had become the subject of the all-too-common mockery of male initiatives: “men can’t get their act together.” Because of the lack of a singular annual date or set of objectives (not necessarily a bad thing!) few were taking it seriously. Only by forming a united front with an agreed set of objectives and date might then the project be understood as a serious and legitimate undertaking. With the increasing legitimacy and respect being afforded to the event the current unity has achieved it’s aim. As it progresses the event will continue to encourage more flexibility in the timing and objectives of local observances to cater to local needs and concerns.

Jason Thompson.