Equality fight turns to men

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The Independent Online
AFTER YEARS of battling for the rights of women, the Equal Opportunities Commission is to champion the cause of men.

In a dramatic change of strategy the new head of the commission has pledged to "liberate" men from the workplace. No longer will "chauvinistic" males be pilloried for leaving housework and childcare to women. Instead they will be supported in their battle to win the right to take time off work to help with those duties.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Julie Mellor, who took over as chair of the commission in February, said that creating "a society of carers" in which men could take time off work to look after their children was the contemporary route to equality. She believes men and women will not have true equality until both have a choice about whether to work or stay at home.

Long working hours are impeding progress towards true equality, she believes. The "24-hour culture" was putting undue pressure on men and deterring many mothers from taking full-time jobs. "If men don't take on caring responsibilities we won't have equality," she said. "Our role at the EOC is about allowing women and men to be free to make their own choices and make use of their own unique skills."

Ms Mellor, a former management consultant and human resources director for British Gas, said: "We are about the contemporary needs of women and men which includes creating equality in our lives and tackling the long-hours culture. We live in a 24-hours society. We have stretched the 45-hour working week, to the 50-hour and 60-hour and 70-hour working week. We need to revolutionise the way we think about the way we work."

She is convinced that "complacency" - and the idea that women have already achieved equality - is impeding the fight against discrimination. "Visibly things look different and people think that discrimination is cracked. But the statistics show that the situation is awful.''

This week, in its annual report the commission will publish figures showing that only 18 per cent of managers are women. Female-dominated occupations, such as secretarial work and hairdressing, are poorly paid compared to equivalent male-dominated jobs.

Ms Mellor, who works only during school terms so she can spend time with her two young children, said issues faced by today's feminists were different to those faced by their counterparts in the 1970s. The modern struggle was about achieving a balance in the lives of both men and women. "Many of the old problems are still there, but there was a perception that the EOC was about bringing cases of discrimination against men," she said. "Now there are contemporary issues that we need to address."

Her remarks come as research reveals women in Britain have one of the worst records on pay in Europe. The average hourly wages of women in full- time work are 74 per cent of men's, compared with 90 per cent in much of Germany.