Men’s exclusion is a gender equality issue

11.11.2014 11.38
News item N5-65341
The final report of the MSAH working group on Men's Issues in Equality Policy, submitted in mid-October, finds that deliberations on exclusion should incorporate a gender perspective. "The majority of socially excluded people are men. This means that solutions must be sought concerning their different life stages," says the working group's chairperson, and the Managing Director of the Seafarers Pension Fund, Kari Välimäki.

Välimäki explains that social exclusion is at least partly rooted in attitudes, the affects of which are apparent from early childhood onward. "Boys are not faced with the same demands as girls, who are expected to carry out their responsibilities and take other people into account. Perhaps this is why some men don't feel the need to shoulder sufficient responsibility later in life."

It is a view that challenges the usual notion that boys are accorded more freedom and privilege. Välimäki says that the price of this is that boys have weaker social skills and find it harder to perform in a group. Their detachment leads to increased alienation and weaker learning outcomes.

Putting greater emphasis on gender equality in early childhood education and primary education can diminish the differences between boys and girls. Learning outcomes should also be systematically monitored to ensure that when school ends boys as well as girls are properly equipped with necessary basic skills, such as language and mathematical skills.

This is the first time that the entire content of Finnish equality policy has been assessed the perspective of men. The result is a concise eight-point list of proposals for tackling some of the problems men face in Finnish society and improving policy outcomes, backed up by arguments and measures for enacting the proposals.

Fathers' inclusionOne of the problems men face concerns being a father.

"Many of the issues to do with bringing up children are inclined to only take the mother into account. This has been the case in particular with divorce. Fortunately, there has been a little progress in this area, as the position of men has been improved in court procedures", says Välimäki.

The position of the working group is that children must always be entitled to be with both parents. Recognition of paternity should therefore be facilitated and parental benefits more evenly balanced between the genders.

The report stresses that improvements in custody and rights of access after divorce or separation are needed to prevent estrangement between fathers and children. It finds that equality between parents needs to be improved in developing the area of the arrangements for children living in both parent's homes in turns and opportunities for supervised visits.

The aim is to improve the possibilities for fathers to be with their children by ensuring that they have the same opportunities for reconciling working and family life as women nowadays do. Current legislation on parental benefits and collective agreements on family leave are not, the report finds, in practice conducive to equality in parenthood.

Gender-based differentiationThe different way boys and girls are treated is not the only thing that promotes gender differences. This is easy to see in something like military service, but Välimäki points out that college entrance exams can also sustain gender segregation.

"Entrance exams in many fields put more emphasis on theoretical knowledge rather than practical performance, which tends to eliminate men."

The working group considers the division between men and women in employment an anachronism. More men should be employed as teachers and in social and health care, while more women are needed in IT work and construction. This would break down some of the traditional conceptions of what men and women are, and what it is appropriate for them to do.

The gendered division of professions can act as a discriminatory factor in other ways than by reinforcing outmoded ideas. Välimäki cites the example of health care.

"Men use health care services less than women. We think it would be important to find out why. How much of an influence is the notion that men never complain or ask for help? And how significant is it that in services dominated by women the ways of acting and speaking are for many men quite odd?"

Fed up with being labelledMen's exclusion or minimal involvement with their children's education and care do not stem from their gender, but from the constructs and attitudes attached to it. The role of men carries with it much historical baggage, the easing of which should, according to the working group, figure on the equality policy agenda.

The report's proposed measures on diversity offer more scope for this, and they pay attention to improving the welfare of men belonging to sexual and gender minorities, as well as to men belonging to ethnic minorities. It stresses that there cannot be a categorical definition of what passes for masculinity or femininity.

Väkimäki says that much impatience was expressed in the working group at the stereotyping of men. Its report takes a nuanced approach, stressing that while violence needs to be approached in a way that differentiate between gender, associating violence exclusively with men should be avoided. Although most of those who behave violently are men, the majority of men are not violent.

"Masculinity cannot and should not be classified as problem behaviour."

Text: Paula Mannonen & Mark Weller