Picture the scene. You’re in a Committee Room in the Palace of Westminster overlooking the River Thames in London. It’s mid-afternoon on an overcast Tuesday in November and it’s already getting dark outside.
In the room is an eclectic mix of 28 people: a couple of MPs, a clinical psychologist, a couple of professors, charity workers, journalists, one or two staunch feminists and me, representing fathers. It was in this environment that the Men and Boys Coalition was officially launched yesterday.
You may very well be wondering; “The Men and Boys Coalition, what’s that all about?” I won’t reinvent the wheel, I’ll simply repeat what it says on the coalition’s website:
“(The Men and Boy’s Coalition is a…) mutually supportive network of responsible groups, organisations, academics, journalists, commentators and leaders who are committed to taking action on the gender-specific issues that affect men and boys.”
I was given the great honour of being asked to speak at the launch. Bad joke I know, but it gave me the chance to say I was giving my maiden speech at Westminster.
I’ll go into more detail about what I said in a moment, but something I stressed at the very beginning: I won’t put my name to any organisation that follows an aggressively pro-male stance. That’s not what I’m about and it’s not what the Men and Boys Coalition is about.
The coalition has around 40 members at this point in time. These include: Men’s health organisation Mengage, Survivors UK, an organisation focused on helping male victims of rape and sexual abuse, clinical psychologist Dr Ben Hine, well-known writer Ally Fogg and Mark Brooks a member of the International Men’s Day UK team and chair of the ManKind initiative, a charity that helps male victims of domestic violence.
Here are just a few of the issues the Men and Boys Coalition has been set up to address:
Falling educational attainment among boys
In total, 60,000 fewer men go to university each year than women and 62% of girls will achieve five A* GCSEs compared to 53% of boys.
As a result, fewer men are becoming GPs, vets, dentists, teachers and lawyers each year. The ratio of women to men training to become GPs is now 2:1.
Men are less likely to seek help when sick or see a doctor, Men aged 20-40 are half as likely to visit a GP as a woman.
Men have a 37% greater chance of dying of cancer compared to women.
For every three victims of partner abuse, two will be female and one male.
In total, 29% of male victims stay silent on the issue, compared to 12% of women.
In addition to this, there is the appalling male suicide rate. In 2014 there were 4,623 suicides. A shocking 76% of these were male and that says a lot about attitudes towards men with mental health issues and the poor provision of such services for guys.
The coalition has been launched after a year of hard work. On International Men’s Day last year (in case you weren’t aware, it’s always on Nov 19), there was a debate about in Parliament about male suicide. Building on this, the collation aims to keep men’s issues on the political agenda and develop networks so charities and researchers can look into issues affecting men. The idea is not to put men’s issues above women’s, but to treat them equally.
So what’s my role in all this? I am one of the coalitions members and was asked to say a few words at the launch focusing on fatherhood. I found myself sharing a platform with Jane Powell, Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign to End Living Miserably (Calm). Jane spoke with great passion about men’s mental health and suicide.
Also speaking at the launch was Shane Ryan of Working With Men who spoke about the work his organisation does with young fathers and fathers from poorer communities, Anne Coffey MP who spoke about the youg boys from her constituency who are groomed to work with criminal gangs and then go on to be hardened criminals and abusive partners. Journalist and former Loaded editor Martin Daubney, always a great public speaker, spoke of the need to end the “bloody gender war,” especially on social media and Dr Ben Hine, who spoke about the need for this coalition and why he was delighted to be one of its founders.
As for me, I spoke of the discrimination I have faced as a stay at home father in the healthcare system and elsewhere. I said I wished to promote positive fatherhood and expressed my fears that we could all, men and women, lose various rights because of Brexit as much equalities legislation has come from the EU. I also expressed concerns that US President Elect Donald Trump represented a form of masculinity that was alien to me and that I feared all men will be judged by his behavior. I said we all had a job to promote positive masculinity.
For me personally, it was a great experience. As a stay at home father with two daughters, I walk a fine line between promoting men’s and women’s rights Men’s rights are no more important than women’s, each gender has its issues, I just want to see them recognized and dealt with fairly.
What do you think? Is there a place for the Men and Boys Coalition? Should we do more to recognise the issues men and boys face? Maybe you are of the opposite opinion and think every day is International Men’s Day? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.
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