As someone who wants both my son and my daughter to flourish across all areas of life, I am frequently reminded that our society does a mediocre job of highlighting and addressing areas in which males face disadvantage. Thankfully we have women’s offices, ministries and NGOs working tirelessly to improve the areas in which women still fare poorly. This is not the case for men.
Our society often assumes that ‘men have it good’ and only women carry the burden of gender-based disadvantage. The evidence strongly contradicts this. Here are 13 areas in which men and boys need our help.
1.Males have poorer health. Males have higher illness, injury and death rates and die almost five years earlier than females, yet public research funding for male health is less than one-third of that for female health. National health expenditure is one-third higher for females than for males. The problem is not that resources have preferentially gone to women, but that health service provision has been inadequate at identifying and addressing the health needs of males.
2.The male suicide rate is a national disgrace. 1,814 males killed themselves in 2010: more than the entire road toll. Divorced men are three times as likely to commit suicide as any other group.
3.Men are raised to be disposable. We socialise boys to take more risks and place a lesser value on their health and safety so that men will take on the dangerous but essential jobs: firefighting, logging, heavy trucking, construction, mining and the military. Australia’s most dangerous and unhealthy work is carried out overwhelmingly by males, especially poorer men. Twice as many males as females experience work-related injuries and illnesses, and over 90 percent of work-related deaths are male. Australia also remains a signatory to the international convention exempting “able bodied males” between 18 and 45 from the ban on forced labour.
4.Males are the predominant victims of violence. The overwhelming burden of disease from violence worldwide is born by males. Men make up three-quarters of suicides, two-thirds of homicides and three-quarters of war-related deaths. In Australia, young men are three times as likely as young women to be victims of violence, however no campaigns address this grave issue. Men make up one-third of victims of family violence, but there are barely any support services for these men, nor treatment services for abusive women.
5.Boys fare poorly in education. Fifty percent more Australian females than males graduate from our universities each year. In NSW, the difference between boys’ and girls’ average Tertiary Admission Rank is almost 20 percent. Boys have significantly lower levels of achievement in literacy than girls, are significantly more disengaged with schooling, and drop out more often.
6.Men and their children fare badly within the family law system. Fathers are removed from their children against their will and through no fault of their own. The majority are not granted reasonable access after contested legal proceedings costing thousands of dollars. False accusations of domestic violence or child abuse are not infrequent in attempts to ensure custody of the children. Fathers are then forced to pay “child support” without any guarantee the money is used for the benefit of the children. The system refuses to enforce access to their children.
7.We do little to support fatherhood. Until the 1970s dads weren’t allowed to be present at the birth of their children. Since then the role of the Australian father has changed from sole breadwinner to sharing the hands-on parenting and earning roles with his partner. Fathers are more likely than ever to require time off work to look after their children’s needs but government legislation and workplace cultures haven't followed suit. Men are still expected to put in long hours and not take time off for family responsibilities. Discrimination complaints by men because of their parental status have more than doubled in the past decade. Many fathers feel excluded by staff and services in the early childhood health and education sectors that appear to be focused solely upon the needs of mothers. Ante-natal courses for new fathers are rare despite post-natal depression rates in first-time dads of up to 10 percent.
8.There is an epidemic of fatherlessness. Of the five million Australian children in 2009-10, 864,000 (17 percent) lived away from their father. Of these children, 48 percent saw their father at least once per fortnight, while 24 percent rarely saw their father. Almost half never stayed overnight with their father. In 2009-10, there were 366,030 non-resident fathers. Research from the USA shows that violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, teen pregnancy and suicide all correlate more strongly to fatherlessness than to any other factor.
9.There is a critical lack of male teachers. The proportion of male teachers is at a record low and continues to fall. In 2011 just 30 percent of all full-time equivalent teachers were male: 19.3 percent in primary schools and 41.8 percent in secondary schools. Males make up 2 percent of preschool teachers and 4 percent of childcare workers. The lack of male teachers may be a strong factor behind the high dropout and low achievement rates of boys. With so few male role models and mentors it’s no wonder that boys disengage.
10.The health of boys needs attention. After the first year of life boys have a death rate 35 percent higher than girls. In all areas of health status (death, disability, handicap and illness), boys fare worse than girls. Generally, more boys than girls have mental health problems, including conduct disorder, disruptive or antisocial behaviours.
11.We fail to protect baby boys from infant circumcision. Each year almost 22,500 boys under the age of four are subjected to painful, sometimes dangerous and life altering surgery without their consent or medical cause. All six major medical societies of Australia have declared that circumcision of newborn males should not be routinely performed. Circumcision has serious risks including infection, haemorrhage, scarring, shock, penile disfigurement, penile amputation, and even occasional death. Three states and two territories have laws that protect little girls from this sort of procedure but there exists nothing to protect little boys.
12.Males lack reproductive rights. Upon becoming pregnant, a woman can choose to have the baby, have an abortion or put the baby up for adoption. A man has no legal right to choose whether to become a father or even to be notified that he has become a father, even if the pregnancy came about via deception.
13.Men are more likely to be homeless. Males are one third more likely to be homeless compared to females, and and twice as likely to be sleeping rough.
Gender equity is not a zero-sum game: let us remember that looking after men and boys does not take anything away from women and girls. If we want to create a world where each child can grow to fulfil their greatest potential, we must care equally about the needs and human rights of both genders.