Supporting boys and young men: Is this the shift in mindset we’ve been waiting for?

Working With MenThis month we won the Community Organisation Award for Gender at the National Diversity Awards. I was genuinely surprised when they announced our name.  At that moment I was sitting back in my chair getting ready to applaud the winner, when I realised they were playing our video on screen and saying our name.

WWM Blog PicChief Executive of Working With Men – Shane Ryan 

It is a significant moment for us in many ways – not only are we getting a clear message from people that what we are doing is recognised and needed – but it means disadvantaged boys and young men have finally made it on the public agenda.

 We are the first ever charity working specifically with helping boys and young men to receive such an award. This is great, but there is a penny dropping – true equality needs to work both ways for men and women for everyone to move forward together.

Equality for men and women

 While much of the public focus on our work tends to highlight our programmes in schools or our work with unemployed young men. Families are the perfect example of the place where the two things can go hand in hand, where there is reciprocity between equality for men and equality for women.

Imagine if we offered all fathers the same level of support and services we offer mothers. We have nearly a quarter of a million fathers in the UK that are stay-at-home dads and two million mums. In 1993 there were less than 120,000 dads. Things have changed. Some women are out at work earning more than men. How are we accommodating that change? This is the reality of 21st century Britain.

 The more we offer family services for men, the more we make it OK for them, and, for those women, to make conscious decisions on how they are going to live their lives. This removes the shackle, or the onus, that is constantly on mums to look after children.

 If we want to reduce the incidence of children’s involvement in social care, if we want to foster more equitable arrangements around child rearing and parental roles and want a more equal society where both women’s and men’s roles in life and wider society are not tied to historic stereo types and positions this has to extend to family life as well as work place and public life.  We have quite rightly witnessed the emancipation of women from enforced roles within society and now hope and expect these rights and freedoms will grow and continue.

Everyone of both genders and from whatever cultural or ethnic background need to be afforded the same rights and opportunities including when it comes to children, families and parenting roles; if we set an expectation or precedent that men can and should be involved in all aspects of parenting not just in the financial provider or occasional babysitter role, we make an important statement about equality for all generally.

Breaking down boundaries

 The work we are doing is breaking down boundaries and is forcing a change in mindset. Not only are we truly humbled that so many people would go out of their way to vote for us among such strong competition, we also recognise – as someone said to me the other day – we now “deserve to be in that field”.

Remaining with the family theme we have really important work ahead of us. For example we want to record the numbers of fathers who are still in school.  Most of the time people don’t acknowledge they are fathers – so understandably they struggle with it. These young men have just been told they are going to be a dad, they can’t get time off to go to the antenatal appointments or the birth. Rather than brand them as boys who need to be punished, we need to keep them involved with the family and support them – the outcomes are better for the whole family, and the young mums we’ve spoken to agree with this as does the associated research. This is why we believe the creation of statutory requirements to capture father’s data where possible by health and children’s services is essential particularly where they may be vulnerable

 An extraordinary 10th anniversary year

WWM Pic02We are having an extraordinary 10th anniversary year. It’s snowballing; we have cross party support for the work we are doing, the next all-parliamentary group on fatherhood is around the corner; press interest is high; we are being asked to speak at  conferences and universities; our fundraising is growing, our profile is stronger, and we are looking forward to marking International Men’s Day on 19 Nov.

And here we are, a small organisation with a funny name!

On a serious note, what is significant is that our national and parliamentary work is growing. Two years ago we took over the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood and that added a new dimension to the work. 

In this crucial time before the general election we need to show politicians what we have learned in the last decade about how to target marginalised young men and make them feel they have a stake in society. We also now work with organisations nationally, including Bardardos, Mums Net and the Royal College of Midwifery for their support at the party conferences recently it shows a real shift in mindset. With this in mind our core three-pronged strategy works on a ‘Manifesto for Men’ for the 2015 General Election, developing a robust evidence based programme that beings to address inequalities in health and education.

We will continue to push the message that there are other paths to walk down – we need to gear up our young men particularly with the tools to do that. Otherwise they can often become lost and unsure what their responsibilities are.

 There is more than one way to be male.

 Thank you to everyone for your support. We are really proud to have won this award.

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