Women need to be asking when International Men’s Day is too

I saw a tweet on Saturday 8 March, International Women’s Day, which said “The least men can do on International Women’s Day is not to ask when International Men’s Day is.”

In fact I think the very opposite is true. When I read the tweet I wanted to know exactly when International Men’s Day was, I wanted to be absolutely certain that it existed and was celebrated with precisely the same passion and commitment as I was witnessing that weekend.

After all, feminism is about equality – the same rights, privileges and opportunities given to men and women alike. I don’t want to feel like an endangered baby tiger in need of some charitable giving and a purpose built sanctuary, I want to feel like an equal in society.

Days given over to addressing the difficulties faced by a particular group may be a good way of doing things, if we feel not enough is being done through ongoing public policy. But the idea that International Women’s Day means shaming men into silence and presenting ourselves as victims undermines not only how much has been achieved but the entire feminist ideal.

I think it’s vitally important we celebrate both, equally and positively. On International Women’s Day, we need to be campaigning to close the gender pay gap, challenge the absence of women in top professional positions, the undervaluing of women in sport, the belief that childcare and associated statutory leave are ‘women’s issues.’ Around the world, we need to be fighting to end the brutal mistreatment of women in cultures where suspected adultery carries a death sentence and nine year old girls are married off to older men for a lifetime of rape and subordination.

On International Men’s Day, we need to be campaigning to reduce the rate of male suicide, the lack of legal rights given to fathers when a marriage breaks down, the damaging impact of anti gay sentiment and propaganda, the increased chance of death in men with the same cancer diagnosis as women. Across the globe, we need to tackle the ongoing recruitment of boy soldiers in civilian conflict and support the protection of men of all ages working in physically unsafe environments without proper regulation.

Above all, it comes down to the overarching principle that dignity, respect and equality are basic human rights, for everyone.

1 million conversations about mental health

Today is 6th Feb, Time to Talk Day, which aims to spark an ambitious 1 million conversations across England and Wales about mental health. It doesn’t have to be anything profound, different, or life changing, just a simple conversation with someone you know, or even someone you don’t, about what this topic might mean to you.

You may never have thought about mental health before, and that’s even better, because if by the end of the day, more people are aware of what it is and how many people are affected, then we can all pat ourselves on the back for having taken part in something amazing.

My conversation:

Everyone has good days and bad days, but for me sometimes, the bad days join themselves together into a mass of unrelenting blackness which makes me question who I am, what I’m doing, whether anything really matters and even whether I want to be around if it does.

I know I’m not alone in my experience of depression, I also know that feeling I’m not alone makes me one of the lucky ones. I have people who care about me, I work in a supportive environment where it’s ok not to be ok sometimes, and I’ve had professional help which has made a big difference too.

When I’m feeling fine which, since counselling, is thankfully more often than not, it helps me to make a mental note of things to think about when I’m struggling to see past the dark fog of anxiety and hopelessness in my head.

1.  My partner. Having her total support and knowing her opinion of me doesn’t change when I’m having a bad time helps enormously. It can be really hard to have conversations about mental health with people who love you, but in my experience it’s the thing that helps the most.

2. My friends. A couple of months ago I went through something hard and I received a Facebook message with a menu attached. It said these are all the things I’ll be cooking this week, and these are the days I’ll be cooking them on, you are welcome to any, none or all of these meals, no warning, I’ll make enough for you to just turn up if you want to. It’s difficult to remember sometimes that there are people in your life who will do things like this for you, people who think you’re worth it, and remembering they’re there makes a huge difference.

3. My job. I’m lucky enough to enjoy what I do, to not only believe passionately in the ethos of the organisation I work for, but also to enjoy the day to day of my job. I get to spend every day fixing digital things and talking about websites and gadgets. When it’s a struggle to feel that things matter to me, it helps to remember that.

4. My cat. Rusty is a new addition to my life but he’s a fantastic one. He’s loving and hilarious, all the things a fuzzy little kitten should be, but most of all I like that he’s dependent. He needs me to feed him, keep his stuff clean and think about his welfare. Having something else to look after other than myself gives me a powerful sense of purpose which I sometimes struggle to see.

Thinking about these things may not work for everyone and indeed they don’t always work for me, but if we all share our experiences and the little things that make a difference today then I think we’ll be on to something great.

Why we need advocacy

As a first blog post, advocacy seems like an appropriate choice as it’s something I’ve strongly believed in for many years. Here’s why:

Through no fault of its own, advocacy is one of those words which can’t help but sound a bit jargony. “Advocacy? Ah, so that’s like… What, exactly?”

Advocacy means supporting someone to speak up for what matters to them. In essence, it’s making sure we never forget that in a civilised society, everybody matters.

When I feel cheated or downtrodden by life’s many ups and downs, I write a letter to the people accountable. If my bins aren’t collected, I complain to the council, if I’m sold something faulty and denied a refund, I write to head office, if I feel uninformed and pressured into taking a new form of medication, I demand further consultation on my treatment options.

I am able to do this, my upbringing and fortunate social status have placed me in a position where if I am inconvenienced, taken advantage of or at risk, it is within my control to both expect and demand change.

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am. Many of our most vulnerable people in society struggle to access the essential tools and information to change an adverse set of circumstances for themselves.

That’s where advocacy comes in. Advocates work with people to ensure they have a voice in matters affecting them. Advocates will support people who struggle with reading, writing, asserting themselves, using telephones or computers, accessing a building, formulating an argument, knowing their rights. All things which many of us take for granted.

Too often it is assumed that exercising legal rights to be treated equally and to challenge difficult situations are within everybody’s control. But what if you have a learning disability which makes oral and written communication more difficult, mental health problems which cause debilitating anxiety attacks in certain situations, dementia which limits your understanding and awareness of what’s happening to you, or no registered address which stands in the way of you accessing support?

An advocate will work with someone to not only overcome these barriers, but also to give people the skills they need for greater self confidence and independence in the future.

Advocacy has such a crucial and long term benefit to our society that it’s hard to understand the struggle that champions go through to ensure its place in social care policy. Advocates help to break the revolving door cycle of escalating need which takes its toll on individual wellbeing and the cost of care services. Why wait until someone is in crisis before providing them with support?

We hear everyday how our emergency care services are pushed to the limit and once someone has been to that desperate and hopeless place it can be much harder to turn things around. Advocates support people early on, to identify what’s not working for them and to help change things for the better.

Change in policy needs to come from the top. If you believe in advocacy, tell your MP to prioritise services in your area today.