Gender equality and men was discussed at the senior level of the EU for the first time in Helsinki earlier this month.
'Equality needs men and men need equality' was the theme that ran through the historic meeting organised as part of the Finnish Presidency of the European Union. Bringing together representatives from all 25 countries and Norway many different viewpoints were present, from those working in the field of men’s studies and men’s health to those who were very sceptical of the idea of men entering into an arena that has principally been seen as the domain of women.
The conference was opened by Leila Kostiansnen, the State Secretary from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Finland and Tuula Haatainen, the Minister for Social Affairs and Health, Finland who coined the phrase ‘Equality needs men and men need equality' and set the tone for a debate that will lead to a proposal to be submitted before the end of the Finnish Presidency on how policies should reflect this need for inclusion.
EMHF board member Prof Alan White said : 'With the focus of the conference on gender equity, health was just one part of the overall debate and ironically for some there was a feeling that it did not belong within the conference.The inference being that the differences men experienced with their health was a consequence of factors outside of a debate focused on oppression and discrimination. However I think a few minds were changed in the course of the event.'
men's health was one of three workshops running at the two-day event. Professor White of Leeds Metropolitan University delivered a paper giving an overview of why men’s health should be seen as part of the gender equity debate. This was followed by papers by Marito Sihto, from Finalnd's National Research & Development Centre for Health and Welfare (STAKES); Jaroslaw Waligora of the European Commission DG Health and Consumer Protection; and Vasco Prazeres from Portugal's Ministry of Health.
Chaired by Peter Makara of Hungary the workshop concluded that there were clear issues that were faced by men across the European Community with regard to men and their health, with the rate of premature death being an issue in all countries, but most exceptionally in the new accession countries from Eastern Europe. It was also noted that current policy does not take account of men or their specific needs.
The outcome of the conference will not become fully apparent until the proposal is drafted, but the historical significance of holding the event at this level has to be recognised as a major achievement in itself.