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It’s great that working dads are recognised in the government’s gender equality strategy. But there’s more to do.
Calling their latest gender equality strategy a ‘roadmap’ is brave from this government.
After all, maps are the basis of way too many gendered ‘jokes’ about a woman’s inability to read them and a man’s refusal to admit when he’s lost.
Nevermind the fact that no-one uses maps anymore in an age when we have GPS on our smartphones.
But then maybe that’s why they chose that word. The document, titled ‘Gender Equality at Every Stage: a roadmap for change’, is a bit like getting the most recent AA road atlas for Christmas – it’s a nice thought but not a huge amount of use.
If gender equality is the destination it’s not so much a set of directions as a vague but well-intentioned wish to ‘have a nice trip’.
There’s plenty about the costs of gender inequality and the potential benefits to all if that unfairness can be ameliorated, there’s less in the way of solid policies. But then actual actions cost money. And anyway, what’s the point of setting out policies now that the new Prime Minister might promptly bin in three weeks. (Which makes Theresa May’s conversion to better paternity rights while on her political deathbed all the more baffling).
However, the fact that it exists at all has to be welcomed. (And personally I was delighted to see that a number of the items on the manifesto for equal parenting from my book are being addressed!)
The government has set out in black and white that it’s aware of gender inequality, recognises the cost both financially and in terms of wellbeing and, most importantly from our point of view, it puts men in the picture. Literally. The cover features an image of a woman at a laptop while next to her a man holds the baby.
For equality by definition features more than one party. It’s not just about undoing historic injustices faced by women, it’s about freeing up working men from the harmful stereotypes that keep dads from their rightful role in the family.
So a pledge to encourage quality flexible working is welcome. Tackling limiting attitudes towards gender from a very young age is sensible. Creating a ‘digital tool’ to make it easier for parents to consider Shared Parental Leave will be helpful.
In the same week as the gender equality roadmap was launched a number of pressure groups joined forces along with Instagram influencers Papa Pukka and Mother Pukka and started a campaign to get all jobs advertised as flexible by default. They’ll be bringing a bill to parliament later this month in an effort to write ‘Flex For All’ into law. If the government is committed to flexible working they can back the bill and make it happen.
Instead of just saying kids shouldn’t be stereotyped give some support to organisations like Lifting Limits and the Gender Equality Collective (full disclosure: I’m on the steering group of that one) who have the expertise and the resources but need help to get them into schools.
And as for Shared Parental Leave, the roadmap reveals that the long awaited review of that policy won’t now be complete till the end of this year. Just as space travel is complex but ultimately boils down to have a really massive rocket to get you into orbit so SPL will fly when it’s fitted with turbo boosters fuelled by cold, hard cash. Properly funding parental leave and giving dads their own ring-fenced chunk of time off will absolutely improve take up.
So we must welcome the roadmap released this week but push for more detail, more fuel, ultimately more cash to make the journey shorter and more pleasant.