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Column: Men need to help with gender equality - but it's good for them too

Ireland has a huge way to go in terms of gender equality but the onus is on men to do something about it, says Plan Ireland CEO David Dalton.

David Dalton

GENDER EQUALITY HAS still not been achieved in Ireland – and it’s not just up to women to make the improvements. The onus too is on men to do something about it.

Ireland currently ranks 79th in the global table of female representation in parliament. Of Ireland’s elected deputies, only 14.5 per cent are women. To offer a comparison, Rwanda’s parliament is 53 per cent female.

We, as a country, have a huge way to go. And I’m saying this after a new report has just revealed some shocking statistics in so-called developing countries.

Only 7 per cent of board members in Irish companies are female. We are poor performers on a lot of these barometers.

That is why we are calling on men to do something. Most parliamentarians are men, most CEOs are men so it incumbent on them to help sort out this issue.

In business, some men still believe that a woman “goes to have babies” and disrupts the business model. These beliefs make life very difficult for women.

But in helping get rid of such gender stereotypes, men will also be helping themselves.

Debunking myths can lead to healthier men and better fathers

Males under the age of 24 generally try to live up to the stereotype of “being a man”.  They live harder, becoming more susceptible to alcohol abuse, substance abuse and road traffic accidents.

On the domestic front, fathers could stand back a little bit and see what they can do to break down such gender stereotypes. Could they help more with household chores or caring for the younger children? By doing so, these small changes can give an example to their sons and lead to a new breed of male.

If men are willing to share the power burden, it will be good for them too. There is a feeling among men that they need to be the main bread-winner. There is a sense of failure if they not providing everything for their family.

If there is less of a gender stereotype displayed to boys and if they buy into gender equality and a new image of the male, they are under less pressure to conform. They will live longer, become better fathers and more-rounded adults.

However, if these things are not experienced at home, it is important that the issues are addressed in school.

We have already started to debunk the myths. For example, school books are more representative and include all sorts of ethnic groups and different family dynamics. We are starting a pre-school level to get rid of gender stereotypes.

Boys and girls should care about gender equality

No matter where in the world you are, gender equality is good for boys, as well as girls.

Girls’ and women’s rights are human rights. It can often be helpful for men to look at it more parochially – imagine how they want their own mothers, sisters, girlfriends or wives to be treated in the greater world. If men and boys believe in justice and fairness, they will be able to see that not all women enjoy the same level of respect in the community.

Plan International works in 50 developing countries with a vision of a world in which all children realise their full potential in societies that respect people’s rights and dignity.

In our latest report, Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls, we found that greater gender equality will help boys to succeed in school, to be comfortable with their own identity, to be confident in expressing emotions and be equipped with the skills to build positive relationships of mutual trust and respect.

A new perspective on gender is about a more productive way of viewing power relationships to benefit both sexes.

In developing countries, a lot of inequality and violence is generational and our work is about breaking cycles.

Education needs to start at a young age and it is vital that families become aware that educating girls is just as worthy an investment as educating boys.

In some countries – for example India and China – even young children believe that if resources are scare then it is better to educate the boy, rather than the girl.

In a perverse way, this belief is perpetuated by the parents. In some cases, the female child is even less nourished than the male. Families often see their sons as a better “investment” than their daughters.

However, we have found that if a girl spends just one more year in school, then she will ean about 20 per cent more annually throughout her lifetime. And about 90 per cent of that income goes directly to the household. We therefore encourage girls across the world, particularly in developing countries, to stay in school longer, look for a job, get married later in life and have fewer but healthier children.

As told to Sinéad O’Carroll following the launch of the 2011 Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls report. David Dalton is CEO of Plan Ireland, which runs the Because I am a Girl campaign, tackling issues of gender inequality. For further information, please visit www.plan.ie.

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David Dalton

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