The old approach to Equalities no longer works.
Any approach to Equality built on a black and white view of the world can only fail.
Any approach that assumes that all men are equal and all women are not equal can only fail men and boys – and an approach that fails men and boys – fails everyone.
This old and unworkable approach to Equalities is the strategic context within which our own strategy sits.
The need to develop a Citywide Strategy for Men and Boys in Brighton & Hove has arisen because of this old approach to Gender Equality that fails to recognise men and boys as a distinct group with specific needs.
This approach to gender equality as “women’s work” has tended to either ignore the needs of men and boys or only target men as a cause of women’s inequality.
The United Nations, for example, approaches gender equality as an issue of “women’s rights” and “women’s empowerment” and presents a picture of a world where only women experience gender inequality. As Kofi Annan said in 2006: “It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race”.
At European level, the European Commission recently renewed its commitment to gender equality in its “Women’s Charter” and at national level the Coalition Government’s “Minster for Women and Equalities” recently set out its approach to gender in its new Equalities Strategy.
Working within this female-focused strategic approach to gender equality, it is not surprising that no city in the world has ever before created a Citywide Strategy for Men and Boys. As the Brighton & Hove NHS Manager for Equality and Diversity, Phil Seddon, recently said:
“Ironically a largely male led society has created structures that don’t meet men’s needs because it hasn’t found itself able to acknowledge what those needs might be”.
So whilst our strategy to create A City That Works For Everyone – Including Men and Boys – is focused on one small city – Brighton & Hove – it is worth remembering that everything we do is informed by the global issues that men and boys face.
According to the CIA Factbook, men all over the world live shorter lives. A boy born in Swaziland today will die at 31 years old compared with a girl born in Japan who will live to 87. The same source reveals that girls in Iraq (71.3), India (72.6) and Indonesia (73.4) live longer than a boy born in East Brighton (70.9 years)
Men all over the world are twice as likely to die violent deaths as women, yet whilst there is an international focus on tackling violence against women and girls, there is no equivalent agenda to address violence against men and boys.
While there is an international focus on how gender roles restrict women’s life choices, there is little consideration given to the fact that conscription, homelessness, suicide, imprisonment and work-place death are predominantly male issues.
In education, tens of millions of boys in the developing world still don’t get a primary education and across the developed world boys are underperforming girls at every level of education.
In the UK, men in their twenties are now paid less than women and parenting legislation discriminates against mums and dads who want to share parenting. This not only contributes to the parenting pay gap that affects women over 30, but also results in just 1 in 9 UK dads having the opportunity to continue sharing the parenting of their children after separation (compared to 1 in 3 dads in Sweden).
These global themes are reflected in our own city where:
- A boy born in one of our poorest neighbourhoods will die 13 years sooner than a girl born in a wealthy neigbourhood
- Boys underperform girls at every level of education, are more likely to have literacy problems and less-likely to attend university
- The city has the second highest suicide rate and the highest rate of drug-related and alcohol-related deaths and harm in England – all of which are issues experienced predominantly by men
- Young men are twice as likely as any other group in our city to be the victims of violent crime
- The vast majority of homeless people and prisoners are male
- The overwhelming majority of young parents targeted for intervention work in the city are mothers
- Projects for women receive nearly 1,300 times more funding than men’s projects
- Community projects funded by the council are 50% more likely to benefit women
- Most public-facing services provided by the public and not-for-profit sector are predominantly run by female staff and volunteers, a situation which is at odds with the City council’s commitment to ensure that its workforce is representative of the communities it serves
The premise of this strategy is that the failure to relate to men and boys as a distinct group with specific needs is a cause of inequality and discrimination and is at direct odds with the Strategic Partnerships commitment to improving the quality of life of everyone in our city – including men and boys.
It is not possible to improve the lives of men, for example, if we are not first prepared to consider the unique experiences of men and boys as a group and understand the inequality and discrimination that they face.
This is a difficult approach for any city to take when operating in a broader strategic context that focuses on gender inequality as something that only women experience. However, if the city’s partners are truly committed to promoting opportunity for all, irrespective of gender, then there are some key strategic threads that we can draw upon to help our Strategic Partners to focus on the specific needs of men and boys more effectively.
The European Commission’s Strategy For Equality Between Women and Men (2010-2015) for example, states that “gender equality needs the active contribution, support and participation of men and policies should address gender-related inequalities that affect boys/men”.
At national level, the introduction of the Gender Equality Duty (2007) placed a legal duty on all public sector organisations to address the different needs of men and women in the development of policies and services. Following the introduction of the single ‘Equality Duty’ the council produced a two-year single equality scheme (Jan 2010-Dec 2011) recognizing that we have “a moral, social and legal obligations to put equality at the heart of everything we do”.
Our strategy for creating a City That Works For Everyone – including Men and Boys is a recognition that our city’s Strategic Partners have a moral, social and legal to address the specific needs of men and boys in our city and provides a framework to help us identify and respond to those needs in a way that helps us deliver our shared vision as outlined in the Sustainable Communities Strategy of a city ”that provides opportunities for everyone to contribute to the creation of a more sustainable and successful Brighton & Hove by reducing inequality, reducing disadvantage and improving quality of life for all our residents”……..including men and boys.
The old black and white version of Equalities doesn’t work for Men and Boys and it doesn’t work for our city. This is why we need a new approach to Equalities that works for everyone – including Men and Boys.