Mark Brooks is chairman of The ManKind Initiative charity and former parliamentary candidate for Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland.
The Government's Equalities Bill is not only designed to streamline the equalities law but also to bring in measures such as extending the scope of positive action. However, the bill hides a quite stark example of discrimination – there has been a Minister for Women ever since the Labour Government was elected in 1997, yet no Minister for Men.
Currently there are three Ministers for Women (Harriet Harman, Maria Eagle and Vera Baird) and they work under the auspices of the Government’s Equalities Office which sponsors the Equalities Commission and the Women’s National Commission. There is no Men’s National Commission.
In response, the Conservatives have had a Shadow Minister for Women, currently Theresa May, and it is unlikely this will change with a coming Conservative Government. In an ideal world, there should not be a Minister for any gender because Ministers should be Ministers for everyone, however we are where we are.
Over the past year laws have been scrapped forcing clinics to consider the need for a "father and mother" before allowing women to seek IVF treatment and to ensure there is a father or a male role model before fertility treatment is granted. Harriet Harman has claimed The Coroners and Justice Bill will stop “men effectively getting away with murder”, a move condemned by many women (Erin Pizzey, Melanie McDonough and Melanie Phillips).
Lastly, the Equalities Bill introduces measures so that when faced with people of equal qualifications and equal ability, employers can discriminate on the basis of gender. Even the BBC’s Mark Easton questioned the premise with so many women now being successful in business and the Office of National Statistics stating that the gender pay gap is largely due to disrupted work patterns (bringing up a family).
The culmination of the past year has been to undermine 29.7 million individuals, who happen to be men. This attack does not affect them solely of course, it affects their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives/partners and in the end, the foundations of British society itself. It is in reality an attack on everyone – women and men do not live in isolation from each other.
There is a clear coherent theme here and Harriet Harman even ‘joked’ about it when standing in for Gordon Brown at last July’s Prime Minister’s Questions as she claimed she couldn’t be Prime Minister because "there aren't enough airports in the country for all the men who would want to flee the country".
Without a Minister or Shadow Minister for Men, there is no coherent single political voice challenging any of the substance and as importantly, any of the tone, of these policies and proposals. There is no political counterbalance and men simply have to sit back and take it.
What should the Conservative response be to this onslaught?
The Conservatives should appoint a (Shadow) Minister for Men and there are a number of reasons why this is plausible and would be politically acceptable.
Firstly, the political framework to allow such a proposal has been set. The unashamed male-bashing and the backlash, mainly led by women, including Amanda Platell, means such a proposal would come across as being reasonable and justified politically.
Secondly, it could be launched on the back of soft issues against which no rational person could argue:
- Improving the testing and treatment of male cancers. Prostate cancer claims the lives of 10,000 men per year.
- Improving boys’ education. Boys have fallen behind girls at every facet of education from to key stage 2 to University entry.
- Improving support and services for male domestic abuse victims. Despite British Crime Survey figures showing that two in five victims are men (3.2 million men/4.8 million women), there are few local services and refuges, and the Government continually produces information campaigns solely for female victims.
- Three times as many men commit suicide than women, again, there has been precious little Government activity on this front.
The third reason, and in many ways, it would be the coup de gras, is that a woman could be appointed to be the (Shadow) Minister for Men.
It would mean that firstly, no one could accuse such as an appointment as being anti-women and would give it a softer badge. It would challenge anyone who opposed the appointment to justify such opposition without being seen as unreasonable and pursuing an anti-male agenda.
In addition, the issues mentioned above affect women as well. It is someone’s husband, father or brother who will die of prostate cancer and the one in three calls to the charity’s helpline of which I am chairman are from mothers and sisters whose sons or brothers are affected by domestic abuse and are appalled that there are so few services to help.
A (Shadow) Minister for Men should be seen as a positive proposal and, couched in the right way, it can be seen as addressing a number of issues that concern us all but are ignored by this Government. The way things are going, each day makes it more politically acceptable.