The Men’s Development Network has played a major role in promoting change and equality within Irish society, by working with men across a variety of areas. CEO Sean Cooke (pictured, left) and Advice Line Supervisor Derek Smith (pictured, right) tell us about their Male Advice Line, for male victims of domestic abuse.
Since its formation in 1997, The Men’s Development Network has been guided by one central mission: “That men play an active part in all aspects of their lives”. The non-profit organisation, headquartered in Waterford City, works with men on various levels. Their aim is to create more spaces for new conversations with men; increase supports to men, women and families; advocate for social change and greater gender equality; and influence the policy, practice and processes of engaging men.
“There are certain aspects of masculinity,” CEO Sean Cooke explains, “which are detrimental to men’s health, and detrimental to their relationships with their children, their partners, their families and their communities – because there are socially-conditioned restraints, and traditional norms imposed upon them.” CEO Sean Cooke explains. “In all of our work, we’re looking at the whole idea of gender equality by transforming masculinities and developing healthy masculinities.”
In addition to their counselling, development, health and MEND [Men Ending Domestic Violence] programmes, the Men’s Development Network launched the Male Advice Line last year – offering confidential advice and support to male victims of domestic violence and abuse. Over lockdown, Advice Line Supervisor Derek Smith has seen a notable increase in demand for the service.
“The number of calls increased hugely in April – we had a total of 185 calls,” he says. “People couldn’t go anywhere, so they were very restricted. If there’s any crack in a relationship, it will show up big time. Lockdown is certainly not the cause of domestic abuse, but it can trigger domestic abuse.”
Although the men using the Advice Line come from a variety of backgrounds and ages, Derek notes that they all have one thing in common – the need to be listened to.
“I had a call there recently from a guy from the Midlands,” he reflects. “For the first half-an-hour of the call, he was just crying. It’s so important to let men just talk – because the first step to recovery is to be listened to, and understood. At the end of the call, he thanked me, and said, ‘I feel a bit lighter now’. I asked him if he wanted me to call him back in a couple of days time, and he said, ‘Yeah’.
“So, I called him back,” he continues. “The upshot of that call was that the relationship had come to an end – and all of this emotion was bottled up inside him. To be able to talk to a stranger in a safe place, that will listen emphatically and be non-judgmental, can be huge for a man. We don’t find it easy to talk about our emotions, and we certainly don’t find it easy to talk about our feelings. To give a man that space can make a big difference.”
• For more information, see mensnetwork.ie. Male Advice Line – Freephone: 1800 816 588