Every weekend for the past three months I have been hunched over a keyboard in the nerve centre of the International Men’s Day website (a cluttered room in Belvedere, full of books, records and random junk) busily updating the events page, replying to emails and keeping social media up to date. At the end of each day, I update the International Men’s Day team of volunteers (Glen Poole, Martin Daubney, Ally Fogg, Dr Ben Hine and Dan Bell) on progress.
I've followed the same routine for the past six years. While that has been constant, the day itself has changed considerably. Every year, it gets bigger, more important, more relevant. And every year, it is afforded more credibility. It's been a long struggle, but it feels as though socially we've woken up to the challenges that men and boys face.
This year, across the whole month, there are well over 70 events in the UK – the most anywhere in the world, and the most ever in this country (we were pleased with a dozen back in 2012). All marked by more and more women, men and organisations across the country. The events include Parliamentary debates (for the third year in a row), community events, men’s health events, business events, student events, political events, research launches, album launches, music video launches, toolkit launches, debates, exhibitions, conferences, competitions, comedy nights and fundraisers. Even a fishing competition on Deal Pier!
Importantly, IMD has become a vital day for charities to use as a hook to focus on their issues and hold conferences, campaigns and events. These include the ManKind Initiative, CALM, Men Get Eating Disorders Too, Survivors Manchester and Mankind Counselling to name but a few. Movember of course starts the month off and we also have a Parliamentary Reception organised by Virendra Sharma MP.
So why is it that IMD is growing in its importance, to the extant that that comedian Sarah Millican, Plymouth University Feminist Society, and international brands such as Harry’s (who launched their seminal Men and Masculinities research report this week in the House of Commons) are involved?
Simply – it is a realisation that the wellbeing of men and boys matter. Their wellbeing has always mattered to those closest to them – family and friends. However, there is now a realisation that their individual and collective wellbeing matters to employers, communities, society. It matters to the country.
From an equality perspective, there is a realisation that society cannot sit by and not take action to tackle issues such as male suicide (12 men will take their own life today) and rough sleeping (well over 3,000 men will be sleeping on the streets tonight). These are self-evidently gendered issues: to ignore them would be tantamount to sexism.
The political narrative is now trying to play catch up. As Jo Swinson MP said so eloquently in the Parliamentary Debate this week: “...our focus is often on how women and girls lose out from gender inequality and it is right we explore those issues. It is absolutely the case that men and boys are also negatively affected by gender inequality”.
Those with a personal stake in the wellbeing of men and boys have turned International Men’s Day into a grassroots phenomenon – not by diktat or by some think tank, politician, academic or corporate brand. It has been created by all and therefore is owned by all.
Happy International Men’s Day!