When is the Equality Act not providing equality? When you’re a male carer.
I have a question for you. Can it ever be acceptable to withhold education or training courses from someone on the grounds of gender? Further to this, what if the training is backed by a local authority and funded by the tax payer?
In this instance we’re talking about courses to help people improve their IT skills. I can’t help feeling that such a stance can rarely, if ever, be justified.
Even so, over the past few months I have stumbled across two instances of this happening. The courses in question have been designed for women returning to work after taking time off to raise children.
What happens if a dad needs training?
I don’t question the need for these services to be available to women. In fact I encourage it. There’s a very clear need for them and they’re no doubt of huge benefit to the women who have sacrificed careers to raise children.
I hardly need to tell you that it’s tough for women returning to work after years of economic inactivity. Even so, it’s tougher still if you’re male. People don’t expect men to fulfil the main childcaring role. Not only are these men (which would include me as a stay-at-home father), battling society’s expectations, but there is simply no support for them.
Being a mischievous soul, I approached both organisations providing the aforementioned training. I explained that I’m a stay-at-home dad and asked what would happen if I wished to undertake their training courses.
One of them was operating in the private sector, the other, though technically a private sector body, has the backing of a local authority and is funded with tax payer’s money. To my great surprise, on both occasions the Equality Act was quoted back at me and used as justification to keep men off the training courses.
Denying men services
Yes, the Equality Act. You know, that piece of legislation that says you can’t discriminate on the grounds of gender.
Unless, it seems, your gender is male. (I was told that if you turned up to the training course offered by the publicly-funded body, claimed to be transgender and presented as a woman, they’d let you on.)
Before I go on, I’m going to disappoint you. I’m not going to reveal who I have been having these discussions with. I think these things are best done behind the scenes. The justification for denying men the same services as women, however, does need to be discussed openly.
It all comes down to a clause in the Act that states that you can take “positive action” to meet the needs of distinct groups. I would quote the entire clause but it is incredibly lengthy. I shall therefore paraphrase thus; you can limit the provision of services to particular groups if they have a “protected characteristic,” that you “reasonably think” they may be disadvantaged and your actions to remedy this are “proportionate”.
Not just dads
Both organisations claim to have identified a need for women to receive such training. They are using this as a means to justify their stance. I have some sympathy with the argument. Women who fulfill the main child-caring role are often disadvantaged when re-entering the workforce.
That said, where is the alternative training for men? It simply doesn’t exist. Where does the widower go? Where does the stay-at-home dad go? He doesn’t go anywhere because he’s being ignored and has been forgotten about. The need for such services to men may be limited, but when it’s needed, the need is considerably more acute.
I can’t help thinking it’s a very short-sighted view to take when same-sex couples are raising children and same-sex marriage is an accepted norm. Over time this is inevitably going to lead to more men needing this kind of training when their relationships break down or they’re widowed.
Let’s also not forget that eight per cent of single parent families are headed by men. In other words, there is a clear need to make these kind of services available to men.
In reality these services are already being provided. The unfortunate truth is that men are being denied them.
By John Adams
Photo: Flickr/Mike Licht
Are you a stay at home dad who has been excluded from services targeted at mums? Or have you come across any other instances where men are denied services due to their gender? Tell us about it in a tweet or a comment.
John Adams is a married stay at home dad with two young daughters. He was previously a journalist and PR / communications professional but gave this up in 2010 to be a homemaker and look after the children.
In 2012 he launched a parenting blog focused on his experiences as a “man that holds the babies” called Dadbloguk.com and he now writes for a variety of different publications in addition to his own blog and writes regular articles for insideMAN.
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