On Sunday, The Telegraph published its most recent poll under the headline: “Labour narrows gap to six points as women voters surge towards Jeremy Corbyn.” According to the polling company, “Theresa May needs to appeal to these women over the next two weeks if she wants to increase her majority in the House of Commons.” But the fact is, a special focus on women voters is already a central part of all parties’ electoral campaigns and has been for years.
Whatever their other differences, this election each party has specifically set out to appeal to female voters, with manifesto pledges on issues ranging from maternity pay and free childcare, to tackling sexual violence and special provision for female offenders. There’s nothing new about this: from David Cameron’s audience with Mumsnet, to Harriet Harman’s pink battle bus, to Angela Eagle’s short-lived and distinctly pink-hued Labour leadership bid, to the Women’s Equality Party itself, courting the so-called women’s vote is now a corner stone of electoral politics.
This is a good thing – let that be clear.. There are numerous issues that disproportionately affect women and girls and it’s the responsibility of elected representatives to address them. But here’s the problem: there is no equivalent political will to tackle the many grave issues that primarily affect men and boys.
Here are just a handful: the deepening crisis in boys’ education, that now sees 60,000 fewer young men attend university each year than young women; the barriers faced by dads to being involved parents, leaving around one million children in the UK growing up without any contact with their fathers; the scandal of male suicide, now the leading cause of death of men aged under 50 and at a rate three times that of women’s; and a whole raft of social-exclusion statistics, including the fact that fully 88% of those who sleep rough are men.
Given the parties’ avowed commitment to gender equality, why is there a deafening silence over issues that are not only so heavily gendered, but also affect some of the most vulnerable members of society? Well, it seems there are two main reasons and neither stand up to much scrutiny.
The first might simply be described as straight-forward political self-interest – women are more likely to be swing voters than men, so it makes sense to try and woo the voters who stand a chance of being persuaded.
In the off chance a political strategist for one of the main parties happens to be reading this, I’d like to ask them to take half a moment to have another think about that. If, for example, you promised to dramatically reduce male suicide, or pledged to close the education gap for sons of voters up and down the country, don’t you think either of those might be a vote winner? And not just for men, but for the women in their lives too? I know those two pledges alone would get my tick at the ballot box.
The second reason men and boys’ issues rarely get a look in is to do with gender politics, rather than the electoral kind. The assumption is that because there are more male than female MPs, and more men in positions of power generally, men’s needs are not only already well-served, but unfairly so.
But take another look at those statistics. Each one could arguably be seen as among the most pressing social justice issues facing UK society, yet when was the last time you heard any leading politician – male or female – call for urgent action on say, fathers’ post-separation relationships with their children, or the disproportionate number of male rough sleepers? Meanwhile, there’s an array of mechanisms and institutions specifically aimed at addressing issues faced by women and girls, from the Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee; to the Government Equalities Office; through to the Minister for Women herself.
The point I’m making here is not that we should reduce representation for women’s issues, but that we desperately need to increase advocacy for the very real issues facing men and boys. That’s why myself and five others co-founded the Men and Boys Coalition, a network of more than 60 leading charities, academics, journalists and campaigners who are committed to supporting the well being of men and boys.
And here’s the good news for that political strategist (who I hope is still reading). We’ve not only got a ready-made list of issues to put on your Manifesto for Men, our members also include some of the country’s leading experts in their fields, who have already put years of hard work and brain power into trying to find the solutions.
In fact, there have already been a number of proposals for what an over-arching Manifesto for Men would look like, including, back in 2010, a non-implemented “mini- manifesto” for men from the Lib Dems. Other leading charities have focused on specific issues such as men’s health, fatherhood and f amily law, while fellow Coalition co-founder, Mark Brooks, who is Chairman of male domestic violence charity the Mankind Initiative, was one of the first to advocate for a Minister for Men and has called on the Government to create a parallel Ending Violence Against Women and Girls strategy,in order to give equivalent urgency to tackling violence against men and boys – who in fact are around twice as likely to be victims of violent crime. In short, we have the expertise, we’re just waiting for your call.
This election, that until recently had been seen pretty much as a coronation for the country’s second ever female Prime Minister, and which is being fought by more female MPs than ever before, could reasonably be considered a major gender political milestone in itself. And this year also marks another significant date in the UK’s gender political calendar – it is the 20thanniversary of the introduction of the Minster for Women.
But as Mark Brooks recently pointed out: “It is very telling that exactly 20 years to the month since the first ever Minister for Women was appointed, there have been massive strides in terms of tackling women’s issues but little, if none, on those affecting men.”
The question is no longer whether we need-male friendly policies, but which ones and how can we implement them. Our vision is that by the time of the next general election, alongside competing for female votes with pledges aimed at women, each party will also be vying for male and female voters by showing how they will support the wellbeing of men and boys.
So, just one question remains. What male friendly policies would get your vote?
The Men and Boys Coalition are committed to tackling:
- The high male suicide rate
- The challenges faced by boys and men at all stages of education including attainment
- Men’s health, shorter life expectancy and workplace deaths
- The challenges faced by the most marginalised men and boys in society (for instance, homeless men, boys in care and the high rate of male deaths in custody)
- Male victims of violence, including sexual violence
- The challenges faced by men as parents, particularly new fathers and separated fathers
- Male victims and survivors of sexual abuse, rape, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based crime, stalking and slavery
- The negative portrayal of men, boys and fathers