September 15, 2011 6.50am AEST

  1. Richard Fletcher

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health , University of Newcastle
Disclosure statement
Richard Fletcher is an invited member of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Gender Statistics Advisory Group.
Promoting men’s care responsibilities to be equal to that of women might be quite a challenge. Chris. P
Achieving equity between men and women requires keeping track of important markers of difference between the genders. While the focus has traditionally been on areas where women are most disadvantaged, there’s a good case for setting equity goals for men.
At the end of last month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) launched its first set of Australian Gender Indicators.
Statistics on men and women in the areas of economic security, education, work and family balance, health, safety and justice, democracy, governance and citizenship were made available in a user-friendly format on the ABS web page.
Welcoming the release, the Hon. Kate Ellis, Minister for the Status Of Women noted “disparities still exist between women and men, particularly when it comes to women’s safety, economic security and leadership.”
She pointed to the 2% of women (compared to 0.4% of men) who reported violence from a current or previous partner in the past 12 months, and the lower labour force participation rate for women with children, compared to men in a similar situation.
Men’s dominance of the top 200 ASX company boards (91.6% of company directors are men) was her third target.
Levelling the field
Perhaps there should also be a “minister for men” to equally welcome the gender indicators. The thought begs the question of which disparities would be highlighted for lifting men’s status.
Minister Ellis’s position is the result of decades of agitation by women advocates protesting discrimination, abuse and oppression. But we have seen no such groundswell of men’s advocates, even in the highly politicised arena of family separation.
In the health area, men’s health advocates (many of them women) have successfully drawn on the obvious disparities in core health indicators such as mortality.
A male baby born in 2009 could expect to live to 79.3 years with a 40.9% chance of reaching 85 years, while a female baby born at the same time could look forward to 83.9 years with a 57.3% chance of seeing her 85th birthday.
The different causes of death between the genders are no mystery.
Men die at twice the rate of women from lung cancer and almost twice the rate for ischaemic heart disease. Young men suicide and are killed in traffic accidents three times as often as young women.
Many, if not most of these deaths are preventable, leaving the way open for governments to take the lead in addressing risk factors and service responses.
Areas for action
The 2010 National Male Health Policy emphasises the social determinants of health, veering away from comparisons with women’s health status. Instead, it targets equal health outcomes between groups of males.
On the face of it, using female rates as benchmarks would make sense since equalising the death rates of Indigenous and non-indigenous men, for instance, would still leave the male death rate unacceptably high.
Comparing males and females in occupational areas below that of company director may also be appropriate. The lack of men in child care, teaching, nursing and community sector work could be acknowledged as an equity problem.
The excess of males in the dirtiest and most dangerous occupations – males account for 91% of hands crushed, burnt or amputated, for instance – could be become another gender equity issue.
Some changes have already been enacted.
Forward movement
The Sex Discrimination Act (1984) has been amended to make employment discrimination on the grounds of family responsibility unlawful for fathers as well as mothers and the Fair Work Act (2009) instituted the right for working men with children to request flexible working arrangements to balance work and family commitments.
Equity reformers examining service use may find a useful template in the United Kingdom where the Equality Act 2010 has placed a legal responsibility upon public bodies to identify specific gender equality issues and areas for action and to actively promote gender equality.
The Scottish Government has launched a four-year project to promote the role of fathers and men as carers in children’s services and challenge the associated stereotypes of male roles.
Promoting men’s care responsibilities to be equal to that of women rather than aiming to balance men and women’s workforce participation might be quite a challenge.
Minister Ellis noted that “[T]he Australian Government is leading by example, setting a target of 40% women on Australian Government boards by 2015.”
What would “leading by example” in the area of men’s involvement in caring roles look like? Perhaps setting a target where men on Australian Government Boards took family leave to be with their children or ageing relatives 40% as often as women?