If we be­lieve in true equal­ity, we must help boys

Sunday Express - - BREEDING CRUELTY - By Martin Daub­ney

IT’S BARELY mid-Jan­uary but already we have a con­tender for the “Least Po­lit­i­cally Cor­rect Study Of 2019 Award” – a pow­er­ful re­search pa­per that has com­pletely flipped the tele­scope on gen­der in­equal­ity.

Called “A sim­pli­fied ap­proach to mea­sur­ing national gen­der in­equal­ity” it dared ask the for­bid­den ques­tion: might it be men and boys who are at the bot­tom? And, sen­sa­tion­ally, it has con­cluded that in 68 per cent of coun­tries, that is pre­cisely the case.

The study ar­rived at such a con­tra-nar­ra­tive con­clu­sion by de­vis­ing a new – and more egal­i­tar­ian – way of mea­sur­ing equal­ity than is the ac­cepted norm. Called the Ba­sic In­dex of Gen­der In­equal­ity (BIGI), the pa­per an­a­lysed three “pri­mary fac­tors” com­mon to all men and women: ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, healthy life ex­pectancy and over­all life sat­is­fac­tion.

Writ­ten by Gi­js­bert Stoet, of the Uni­ver­sity of Es­sex (who has 10 years’ ex­per­tise in the field of gen­dered dif­fer­ences in psy­chol­ogy), and the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri’s David C Geary, it has sparked a global de­bate that’s raged for the past week.

That’s be­cause Stoet’s BIGI scores for 134 na­tions (6.8 bil­lion peo­ple) con­cluded that men are, on av­er­age, more dis­ad­van­taged in 91 coun­tries, com­pared with just 43 for women.

Stoet mea­sured pri­mary is­sues that af­fect ev­ery­body, as op­posed to se­condary is­sues which af­fect only a small num­ber, such as dis­pro­por­tion­ately high male sui­cide rates or jail in­mates (men make up 75 per cent of sui­cides and 95 per cent of pris­on­ers), or how many women MPs or CEOs there are (32 per cent of Bri­tish MPs are fe­male and there are only six fe­male bosses in the FTSE 100).

The good news is that the world’s most de­vel­oped na­tions come clos­est to achiev­ing equal­ity (women slightly in front) and the bad news is that in the least de­vel­oped coun­tries, women nearly al­ways fall be­hind men – largely be­cause they have fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to get a good ed­u­ca­tion.

The bril­liant news is, Bri­tain comes second in the world for over­all gen­der equal­ity, with women slightly ahead. Men are ahead of women in only one coun­try in the top 20 – Is­rael. Bahrain was top and Chad bot­tom.

Stoet in­cluded in­equal­i­ties faced by males by ditch­ing the com­monly used Global Gen­der Gap In­dex (GGGI), the stan­dard to mea­sure in­equal­ity since 2006.

The GGGI fo­cuses on areas where women are known to be be­hind, such as eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion, earn­ings and po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment. Stoet be­lieves its method­ol­ogy is skewed to­wards boost­ing in­equal­i­ties suf­fered by women and girls, down­play­ing those en­dured by men and boys.

There has been a back­lash to Stoet’s work but he is res­o­lute, telling me: “This shouldn’t be a gen­der war. It’s sim­ply ad­mit­ting that boys and girls have dif­fer­ent prob­lems and need dif­fer­ent sup­port. In Africa, we should be help­ing girls get a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion. In the UK, we should be help­ing boys get the same. Both gen­ders de­serve our full at­ten­tion.”

That’s hard to dis­agree with, if you be­lieve in true equal­ity for so­ci­ety’s need­i­est, ir­re­spec­tive of gen­der, as I do. In Novem­ber 2016 I co-founded the Men & Boys Coali­tion in Par­lia­ment (Stoet is a mem­ber) to shine a light on the areas the study dared high­light.

But what is driv­ing these in­equal­i­ties and what can we do to ad­dress them?

Firstly, men typ­i­cally die younger, as they are more likely to abuse al­co­hol, smoke, go to war, have dan­ger­ous jobs or die in ac­ci­dents.

Much of this is pre­ventable through aware­ness yet while Bri­tain has a women’s health strat­egy, there is none for men. Per­haps the UK should em­u­late Ire­land and Aus­tralia, which have pi­o­neer­ing men’s health poli­cies.

But the great­est need is help­ing boys in ed­u­ca­tion. Cur­rently, for ev­ery so­cio-eco­nomic and eth­nic back­ground, Bri­tish boys are be­hind.

At pri­mary school, 68 per cent of girls reach Key stage 2 SATs com­pared to 60 per cent of boys. At GCSE last year 17.1 per cent of boys in Eng­land at­tained an A or 7 and above, com­pared with 23.4 per cent of girls, and that gap per­sists at A-level.

There are now 65,000 more women in Bri­tish uni­ver­si­ties than men and that gen­der gap is widen­ing. Girls born today are 75 per cent more likely to at­tend uni­ver­sity than boys.

At the bot­tom of the stack are white work­ing-class boys. In fact those who speak English as a second lan­guage – both girls and boys – out­per­form white work­ing­class boys.

As Con­ser­va­tive chair­man of the ed­u­ca­tion se­lect com­mit­tee Robert Hal­fon told the Men & Boys Coali­tion con­fer­ence in Novem­ber: “The plight of white dis­ad­van­taged boys is a stain on all our con­sciences.”

Today’s boys start at the bot­tom and never catch up. Thirty years ago I was the first lad in my fam­ily to get to uni­ver­sity. Would I make it today? Boys like me are now least likely to go to uni­ver­sity. It moves me to tears when I pon­der how many work­ing-class boys will never ful­fil their po­ten­tial. As Stoet puts it: “The real scan­dal about boys fail­ing in ed­u­ca­tion is that it isn’t a scan­dal.”

In late 2017, I co-wrote Harry’s Mas­culin­ity Re­port, the UK’s big­gest study into men’s well­be­ing. It proved that the big­gest in­di­ca­tor of well­be­ing is a ful­fill­ing job.

To help men achieve that, we must give boys the ed­u­ca­tion they de­serve. Post-Brexit, we des­per­ately need cross-party ac­tion on boys’ ed­u­ca­tion, and the Men & Boys Coali­tion is de­mand­ing that.

BOYS at the bot­tom of ed­u­ca­tion’s stack, di­rec­tion­less and of­ten fa­ther­less, are the most likely to be groomed into gangs, ped­dle drugs and drive knife and gun crime. They are the most likely to kill or be killed. As well as fight­ing gangs with tough polic­ing and com­mu­nity ac­tion, why don’t we of­fer hope (and an es­cape) via tar­geted, boy-spe­cific ed­u­ca­tion?

Po­lit­i­cally home­less, un­der­e­d­u­cated, un­der­em­ployed, job­less, jailed or a likely vic­tim of vi­o­lent crime, these are an aban­doned gen­er­a­tion, left to scrap it out, some­times lit­er­ally to the death.

The burn­ing ques­tion re­mains: is any­body in our cor­ri­dors of power pre­pared to put po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness to one side, put their prin­ci­ples first and step up to help res­cue them?

‘Today’s boys start at the bot­tom in ed­u­ca­tion and never catch up’

HARD WORK: Get­ting some young lads to reach their full po­ten­tial is far from easy these days

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