Opinion | Gender equality for men and boys

Men’s position in society, not to mention their lives in general, is in a period of change. Many of the changes involve men being defined more by their role in the home, as caregivers and as part of the family, than by their careers and work. Men, on average, have also become the less-educated gender, and many are entirely without an education.

Men are on their way to becoming a majority in economically-depressed areas and a minority in cities. Traditional male jobs are disappearing without new ones being created. Statistically, men also are in poorer health, more likely to be underprivileged, and more likely to be involved in crime than women. They are also almost three times as likely to die of nearly all forms of illnesses, and are as much as five times more likely to commit suicide than women. On nearly all fronts, men are clearly falling behind.

This upheaval in men’s lives – and by extension family life and society as a whole – is both positive and negative. Men are more likely to participate on an equal footing in the home than at any time in human civilisation. Men are also present when their children are born and develop close relationships with them from the earliest days of their lives. In fact, we’re on our way to developing a ‘fatherly society’. The breakdown of clear hierarchies when it comes to status, education or pay is also beneficial to couples’ relationships.

One of the challenges though, is that men increasingly find themselves facing the same work-family conflict that women have been fighting since the 1970s. The difference is that men are approaching it from the opposite direction, though this makes the conflict no less heartbreaking or easier to solve. Another challenge is the disappearance of thousands of apprenticeships that would primarily be filled by boys who, as a result, are left without an education or job training.

This change clearly brings both benefits and challenges. To recognise what these changes entail, we need to help men as they become more involved on the home front – for example by encouraging them to take parental leave earmarked for fathers, which is something that has the potential to be of great benefit for families. One particular area that we need to focus on is education and apprenticeships for young men, whose futures depend on their availability. We also need to be better at providing preventative care and addressing men’s unnecessarily high rates of illness, accidents and suicide. Action is also required to lift men out of poverty and to reduce their involvement in crime.

In order to contribute to these efforts, the men’s issues think tank VM – Viden om Mænd (Knowledge about Men) has compiled six short reports of the most important issues in the areas of: health and lifestyle; work and paternity leave; boys and education; fatherhood, family life and care; poverty; and crime. The reports led to the creation of 30 policy proposals.

Among the proposals are:

  • A health policy specifically aimed at systematically improving men’s unnecessarily low median life expectancy. Such a policy should contain plans for the early detection and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses. Efforts to prevent death from injury should also be included.
  • Equal access to parental leave for both parents. This would ensure formal and legal equality and the opportunity for parents to bond with their children from the first days of their lives – regardless of gender or profession. Granting everyone an equal right to take paternity live would make it the norm for men to take leave, legitimising it for them to take time off from work.
  • Paternity leave should be paid, and could be funded through a special ‘paternity fund’. There should not be specific time periods reserved for the mother or the father to take leave. Paternity rules should be made law, so the parent who earns the most winds up being the one who takes least leave. 
  • Create apprenticeships in technical fields and other traditionally male jobs, as well as the creation of a co-ordinated apprenticeship application programme.
  • The understanding of what makes a family should become more diverse. Such efforts should include requiring public institutions to communicate with families in a gender-neutral and inclusive manner. Employees at these institutions should be trained to communicate with fathers.
  • Create social programmes and crime prevention programmes for young minority men with the ultimate goal of promoting integration. Greater focus on creating role models for ethnic minority fathers, sons and husbands.
  • Help underprivileged men function in society by improving their social skills, including programmes that allow them to interact with children.
  • Studies into criminality, focusing on the reasons for men’s significant over-representation in crime statistics.