In the past, specialist work with men and boys has tended to be delivered from a particular philosophical viewpoint – eg pro-feminist, anti-feminist, religious, new age etc.
If our strategy to create A City That Works For Everyone – Including Men and Boys – is to succeed then it must embrace the true spirit of diversity and take a new approach to gender equality.
True diversity recognises that people have different values and beliefs and that those differences need to be respected and promoted. All too often in the world of gender work, strategic partners refuse to work with people with different values and beliefs and so end up excluding others in the name of Equality and Diversity.
Our new approach to Equality will seeks to unite the broadest range of partners not around common values and beliefs – but around common vision and common objectives.
We also recognise that we are operating in a rapidly changing political landscape with national initiatives such as the Big Society agenda and the new Equalities Strategy shaping the context within which our own strategy operates. With this in mind, it is important to consider how we can take advantage of these national initiatives to help us deliver our local objectives of reducing inequality, reducing disadvantage and improving quality of life for all our residents.
At present, it seems unlikely that the new national approach to Equalities will make a fundamental difference to men and boys in Brighton & Hove. While the Government’s observation that some people feel “equalities is not for them” resonates with many people who promote men’s issues, it remains difficult to find any reference to men and boys as a distinct group in the Government’s equalities thinking.
Whilst the Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May, recognises that “people within communities who are allowed to fall too far behind are more likely to get caught up in social problems like crime, addiction and unemployment”, there is no recognition that it is the community of identity called men and boys both locally and nationally who are most likely to end up addicted, unemployed and imprisoned.
The Minister has also rejected the idea of focusing on a “single homogeneous group” – eg women – calling instead for a new approach that focuses on the individual rather than the identity. At the same time she has committed to listen to and involve the homogeneous group called women in the development of future policy, including through a new strategy for engaging with women and women’s organisations.
From our perspective, many of the inequalities experienced by individual men are born out of a failure to consider and respond to the specific needs of men and boys as a “single homogeneous group” and that situation cannot be helped by a Government that commits to developing a strategy for engaging with both individual women and groups that represent women, but makes no parallel commitment to involve men as individuals or as a group in developing future Equalities policy.
Whilst the Government’s new approach to Equalities places little focus on men and boys – with the possible exception of committing to reform the current parental leave system that discriminates against dads who want to either share or be primarily responsible for childcare, there is nothing in the new national Equalities strategy that prevents us from implementing our Citywide Strategy for Men and Boys which is perfectly aligned to the five key themes of the Government’s new approach which are:
- Creating equal opportunities for all
- Devolving power to people
- Supporting social action
- Embedding equality
While all of these themes can be used to the advantage of our city, the biggest opportunity is potentially to be found in the “Devolving Power To People” theme. This connects Equalities to the Big Society Agenda which aims to:
- Empower communities
- Change and open up public services
- Promote social action
These themes are perfectly aligned to our strategy to create A City That Works For Everyone – Including Men and Boys – as our intention is:
- To empower the communities of identity and interest identified in this strategy to help the public sector and its partners to address their specific needs
- To change and open up the way public services work for men and boys in our city
- To promote social action by engaging more men and boys in volunteering and engage more volunteers in providing services for men and boys
With this in mind it is worth noting that while this strategy has the potential to address some of the inequalities that men and boys in our city face, this is more likely to be a welcome outcome of our strategy, rather than our primary strategic focus.
Our primary focus will be to bring together a broad range of strategic partners, including more male volunteers, to improve services in our city for men and boys in a way that ensures that Brighton & Hove can take the fullest possible advantage of the opportunities that the Big Society agenda presents.
Much of the Government’s Big Society thinking is outlined in the new Localism Bill which gives community groups greater power to run local services, buy local assets and trigger local referendums on local issues. The Bill also gives local councillors greater freedom to campaign on specific local issues and local councils a new “power of competence” which in simple terms allows them to do anything that isn’t illegal.