Among the hundreds of comments that followed my blog on the matter, at least one reader pointed out that while I had been forthright in my criticism of the ideas put forward by J4MB, I had not offered any constructive alternatives. It was a reasonable point.
I am still fundamentally opposed to the very idea of a factional party to represent the interests of one gender, however I would be interested in developing a programme of ideas that could be urged upon all mainstream political parties to address some of the very real gender specific issues facing men and boys today. So I have developed the list below as a very personal manifesto.
In reality, many of the changes we need to improve the welfare and wellbeing of men and boys do not lie in party political policies, but are cultural and psychological – relating to how we, as a society, construct our notions and norms of masculinity, broader gender roles, and how we, as men, choose to perform those roles. Nonetheless, politicians and governments can play a role in steering such efforts, and even within the strictures of globalised freemarket capitalism, with all the violence, alienation, isolation and exploitation inherent to the system, there are still changes that could be made that would make a real and meaningful improvement to the lives and welfare of men and boys, and indeed women and girls.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of ten policy packages that are not utopian or idealistic, but could feasibly be added to the manifesto of any existing mainstream political party which had the determination, imagination and courage to put them into action. I would welcome any suggestions for revisions, additions or alternative ideas.
An alternative manifesto for men and boys.
- Fatherhood. Initiate a National Fatherhood Strategy to encourage involved and active fathering from birth onwards. Actively include fathers in all routine perinatal and postnatal health provision and information services, including screening new fathers for health and mental health needs, as we do mothers. Provide up to six months statutory parental leave entitlement to all new parents, to be taken at any time before the youngest child begins school. Make father & toddler activities a funding priority. Reward employers who support active fathering with accolades, awards and rewards. For separated families, children’s needs and welfare must remain centre, however the need for children to maintain a strong relationship with both natural parents where possible must be emphasised. Revise family court proceedings so that a resident parent who deprives children of agreed contact with the non-resident parent may no longer be considered an appropriate primary carer.Background notes: Discussion of father’s rights and obligations too often begins at the time of family breakdown. We need to revolutionise fatherhood from the moment of birth, moving closer towards the Nordic model of active fatherhood. This will require commitment and investment from government, employers, women and men alike. ***
- Education. Form a Royal Commission on Boys’ Education, to investigate best evidence and form solutions to the academic underperformance of boys in schools and their disengagement from learning.Background notes: Politicians and wider society has for too long ignored the growing crisis in boys’ education, specifically education of boys from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities. Gimmicky simple solutions are unlikely to be beneficial, and there is considerable debate among educationalists as to the causes of the crisis and effective solutions. Turning the situation around will take many years, but the first step has to be recognising and diagnosing the true nature of the problem.
- Employment and training. Significant investment is required in manual labour-intensive employment, to provide better prospects for young men without academic ambitions. The first step should be a programme of affordable home building, revitalising the social housing sector and addressing the homelessness crisis. A ‘Carbon Army,’ as recommended by the New Economics Foundation, installing energy-saving home-improvements such as insulation and double-glazing to every home in the country, would have significant long term economic and environmental benefits while providing extensive employment and skills training opportunities.Background notes: Unemployment among men, and particularly working class and BME men, began rising in 2004 and remains stubbornly high. People aged 16-24 are three times as likely to be unemployed as older workers, and young men about 33% more likely to be unemployed than young women [source].***
- Mental health, depression and suicide. Revise national strategy “Preventing Suicide in England” to recognise male gender as a primary risk factor. Implement in full recommendations of Samaritans report Men and Suicide and Men’s Health Forum/Mind report Delivering Male. Department of Health to work with NICE & medical profession to improve diagnosis of depression in men, especially recognising anger, aggression, risk-taking and substance abuse as potential diagnostic symptoms.Background notes: The national suicide prevention strategy makes no mention of male gender as a risk factor, despite men being more than three times as likely to die by suicide. Strategies for identifying and treating male depression have to recognise that men with mental health and addiction issues are often more likely to be encountered by police than their GPs.***
- Men’s health. Add specific responsibility for men’s health to the brief of the Parliamentary Under Secretary for health; Initiate a major campaign by Public Health England to address men’s health inequalities; implement in full the proposals on men’s access to health services proposed in the report Challenges and Choices by Men’s Health Forum (2009).
Background notes: Although boys and men are more likely to die of all comparable treatable illnesses at every stage of life, there is no government policy to address the problem. A search on “men’s health” at the Department of Health website produces literally zero relevant results. This has to be a national health priority.
- Violence prevention strategy. National strategies to address Violence Against Women and Girls, in education, public health and social policy, should be extended to become campaigns against interpersonal violence. Assaulting children under the auspices of discipline must be outlawed. Sex and relationship education should be revised to place enthusiastic consent at heart of the syllabus for both boys and girls.Background notes: More than 2 million violent incidents were estimated to occur in England and Wales last year. 62% of the victims and 80% of the perpetrators were male. Men are more than twice as likely to be murdered as women. More than half a million violent crimes affected children aged 10-15, with boys accounting for more than two thirds of victims [source]. Research shows that wherever corporal punishment is used, boys are beaten more frequently and more severely than girls [Source]. For every three girl children who die by homicide, four boys will – in every age group from birth onwards. [Source.] Strategies to prevent violence against women and girls, in education, social policy and public health are important and should continue, but as part of a wider anti-violence campaign. Such efforts would not diminish campaigns against VAWG, on the contrary they would make them far more likely to succeed.
- Victim support. Provision and funding for social support and therapeutic care for victims of violent crime, including intimate partner and sexual abuse, should only be made on basis of need, not gender.Background notes: The needs and circumstances of male and female victims of abuse and domestic violence are not identical. It is entirely reasonable that gender-specific facilities and services are made available where appropriate. It can never be acceptable for situations like this to arise, where male victims of rape and childhood sexual abuse are actively excluded from support and funding opportunities.***
- Support for care leavers. The Children’s Act must be amended to extend statutory duty of care to the age of 25, with the option of extending residential care to 21, as proposed by the coalition of charities, the Care Leavers’ Coalition.Background notes: Although social services and care policy are rarely seen as gendered issues, they are. There are more boys than girls going into the care system at every stage, and they stay for longer. Overall, 62% of children in care are male. After leaving care, one in every 144 girls who was in care at 16 will be in prison at age 19. The statistic for boys is 1 in 23. By the same age, 51% of these young women will be living independently, compared to 36% of males. [Source] According to research by the Who Cares? Trust, 30% of those who are homeless had been in care at some point in their lives, as had 25% of prisoners.***
- Prison reform. Initiate and implement a “Corston Report for Men.” Make prison a last resort for punishment, reserved for dangerous, violent and incorrigible offenders. Invest the multi-billion pound savings in mental health, addiction and community desistance services.Background notes: The British obsession with prison sees us locking up more men than any country in Western Europe bar Spain. Around 95% of prisoners are male. Since imprisonment is known to be the least effective method of reducing reoffending, the result is a hugely expensive breeding ground for crime, as well as a humanitarian disgrace. Two-thirds of male prisoners have a reading age of 11 or less. More than 70% have at least two diagnosed mental health conditions and one in ten prisoners had experienced auditory hallucinations in the preceding year.
- Circumcision. Legally prohibit the practice of infant circumcision by untrained, unqualified practitioners, in non-clinical conditions and without anaesthetic. Launch public information and education programmes to discourage unnecessary surgical procedures in line with the British Medical Association’s position, in a move towards negotiated phasing out of infant circumcision.
Background notes: Personally I would love to see a total end to ritual infant circumcision, but implementing a legal ban would be dangerously counter-productive, pushing the practice underground, and such a demand is politically untenable. However preventing the horrific unlicensed practices which result in widespread complications, lifelong scarring and even deaths and serious injuries is an urgent necessity.