"Both men and women have to actively seek equality"


What do men think about gender equality today? What are the biggest challenges for gender equality politics in Switzerland? Andreas Borter from mä answers these and many other questions.

What would be your ideal society of the future?

An ideal society in the future would have to include more variety in terms of life choices. We have to move away from bipolar role models. An important aspect of this is that men should become agents of gender equality and be able to define and develop their ideals by themselves. Many aspects of male identity are still rigid, for example the dominant perception of man as the breadwinner. Even women who earn good salaries expect their male partners to provide an income during an economic crisis.

What issues preoccupy men the most today?

The demands and expectations in their jobs are still a key issue. Many men would prefer to work less but are held back by the fear of financial losses. Current discourses and measures to improve the work-life balance often don't go far enough. They fail to address underlying values: what are the values of an organisation or business in terms of the performance expected of men and women? Do these values infer special measures with regard to women with care duties? Or are they integral to the culture of the organisation or business and acted on by men and women alike? The current thinking needs to be turned on its head: an organisation or business that fails to offer flexible working arrangements for men should need to justify itself.
One reason why the male breadwinner role is so deeply entrenched in Switzerland are the many badly paid "jobs for mothers". The earnings of the female partner are often considered as a "little extra" by the male partner. Men's financial contribution to the family budget would need to dwindle considerably if real gender equality is to be achieved. We need new cultures, new structures and a debate on the respective values of different types of work. Men have to learn to stand up for the change in values which they themselves desire.

New rules with regard to custody and alimony decisions are currently being discussed. What are your main concerns in this context?

We support rules based on gender dialogue. The current practice has to be changed to ensure the right of the child to maintain contact with both parents after a divorce. Old models often bear heavily on divorce proceedings: the mother looks after the children, the father pays. It is important that all responsibilities and duties are carefully examined and redefined after a separation. The default assumption should be shared custody both in terms of finance and care. The earning potential of the mother and the care potential of the father need to be factored into the equation.
A great challenge in the event of a divorce is the decision as to where the child should live. At present, it is the parent who has custody who determines the place of residence. In the case of bi-national couples, this can put the children in a precarious situation.

Young people still choose their profession and study subjects along gender faultlines. What contribution do you think fathers can make in this respect?

That is an interesting question. As far as I'm aware there are no in-depth studies on this subject. It is clear that men have to think about the value of their son's or daughter's profession. The notion of the breadwinner is often subconsciously passed on to sons while work-life balance is more deeply ingrained in daughters. A first step would be for fathers to reflect on their own expectations with regard to the career choices of their children.

Where do you locate the biggest challenges and need for action in relation to gender equality policies in Switzerland?

The politics of gender equality cannot continue in the same vein. Its legitimisation is increasingly being put into question. Gender equality measures that are limited to supporting women miss the point and fail to relate to social realities. What we need are real equal opportunities policies that are co-defined and co-supported by men. There will be a continued need for specific equal opportunities measures - for both men and women. We hope that men will support equal opportunities for women, for example in terms of salaries. In return, women should support equal opportunities for men, especially for issues such as the family or military service.
We support the creation of a high-level body where men and women can present their viewpoints and discuss the new challenges as well as the possible way forward. The Federal Commission for Women's Issues would be a suitable body, but it would have to change its name to Commission for Equal Opportunities. Men and women have to actively seek gender equality. NRP 60 should help to identify gaps and contradictions in current policies.

The questions were asked by Gudrun Sander, Head of Knowledge Transfer of the National Research Programme "Gender Equality" (NRP 60)

What are the aims of mä

The umbrella organisation mä is campaigning for a fairer society in terms of gender; it addresses questions of gender and gender equality from a male point of view. Its efforts are centred around areas of male discrimination in terms of legislation (compulsory military service, retirement age or divorce law) and normative issues (health risks associated with traditional male roles). Thematically the association focuses on work, family and sexuality.

This text was first published in the NRP 60 Newsletter the 22 June 2011 which focuses on the topic "Men and gender".

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