GENDER equality was recently put centre-stage by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, with a commitment to ensure that no woman faces a "glass ceiling" that limits their ambitions.

Launched last April, the Women's Pledge aims to end the gender pay gap and enhance women's work opportunities by such measures as increasing free childcare and raising the minimum wage. And while the old boys club of Westminster now has a Tory majority, Sturgeon has made it clear that "SNP MPs at Westminster will stand up for gender equality at every turn".

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It's great stuff, except that men also suffer from serious and entrenched gender inequality. I understand that after centuries of struggle for women's rights, a call to recognise that men also suffer inequality has a strong taste of irony. Yet the truth is that patriarchy can only be truly dismantled when we recognise it also discriminates against men who don't want to conform to its prescribed roles. And this is particularly so when a man becomes a dad.

As I look around at fathers in my family, fathers I work with, and indeed within myself as a father of five, I see big changes taking place. More and more dads are putting their children at the heart of their priorities in ways that were unthinkable when I was wee. This is not just about rejecting sexist stereotyping of women's role in society, but also rejecting the prescriptions of their own role and identity as men. I would call it a simmering gender revolution.

Society is built around the assumption that childcare is mainly women's responsibility, and the fact women remain mostly responsible for childcare is largely the reason for the continuing gender wage gap despite decades of equal pay legislation. It is also a central reason for pay inequality and the "glass ceiling" on women's work opportunities.

When parents work, what happens if a child is sick at school? Who takes the children to and from school? Who makes their tea, puts them to bed, gets them ready for school, washes their clothes, baths them, organises their activities, takes them to the playpark? Well, likely it will be the mum and consequently her childcare commitments will affect her relationship to work, as well as hobbies and leisure time activities. That is not equality.

Real gender equality will never be won until men step up as dads. This doesn't just mean helping out now and then. It means a revolutionary redefinition of a man's role in family life, and in society as a whole. It means men engaging in a relationship with their children that defines them as equally responsible and equally involved with their children's wellbeing and upbringing. This necessarily would mean men redefining their relationship to the world of work as well.

And here is the good news: many dads are doing this already, and discovering that work, status, income, even football is less important than being dad. They are changing nappies, taking real responsibility, bonding and developing powerful attached relationships with their sons and daughters. Many are going further, structuring their lives around their children and families, rather than the other way round. They are defying the traditional expectations of their role as men.

But here is the irony: these dads hit the same discriminatory barriers that mums are so familiar with. There is a "glass ceiling" which limits their role as parents, and their time with their children. It's the other side of the patriarchal coin: women look after the kids, men earn the money.

Society still actively and subtly promotes these gendered roles. Some maternity services are delivered as if the father-to-be were a bystander: "Make the sandwiches, put petrol in the car and do as you're told", one midwife half-jokingly told me at a parenting class in response to my question of fathers' role in labour.

Limited and unequal rights to time off work to bond and care for their baby means that health visitors rarely see dads, baby massage classes or Bookbug sessions are mum-orientated and dominated. Playgroups and parents' events are attended mostly by mums and by the time a child reaches school age, dad has been moulded into the expected role as breadwinner, with weekends for a bit of time with the kids.

This glass ceiling, which is rarely mentioned by politicians, is reinforced by institutional bias. Many schools are satisfied with mothers' contact details, assuming fathers will get to know about important dates and events - which isn't always the case, especially when parents no longer live together. The result is a sidelining of a dad's role, reinforcing the idea that the natural order for family relationships involves dad as an optional add-on parent, rather than one of two equals in the shared parenting of their children.

But let's not kid ourselves. For millennia, most men were happy to define their masculinity this way because it gave them advantage and power. Today, many men realise that this mindset has excluded them from their children's childhood - and they want to be part of it; a big part.

These men are redefining masculinity. Take Crawford Goodwin, who lives in Penicuik and is full time carer for his young granddaughter. "When my daughter was growing up I missed so much of it," he tells me. "I was at work all the time, but that's the way it was then. Now, seeing my granddaughter grow and develop I realise just what I missed with my own daughter." Goodwin is a "man's man". He loves his sport and good banter with the lads. But he's also a nurturing, hands-on full time single parent for his grandchild, and loving it.

One father I worked with decided the only way to be the dad he wanted to be was to give up his job. "I had just one week's paternity leave, then had to work extra to make up for the loss of my wife's earnings. I was missing the most meaningful thing in my life: my daughter. My boss was completely inflexible. When I said I would like more flexible hours to have more time with my daughter, she said I had a wife at home to do that."

So he gave up his job and got a part time one. But the financial sacrifice was only part of the story. "What I found hardest to cope with," he tells me, "was the torrent of judgemental comments, even from some family and friends, to the effect that I was a bad father for giving up my job, because they said it was my responsibility to bring in a wage."

But he adds: "I don't think my daughter notices that we buy less stuff. But I'm sure she does notice I'm with her most mornings, and look after her and play with her every day. And I'll still be looking for something flexible so I can be regularly at the school gates at home time."

Many single dads are quietly making the same sacrifices as mothers for their children, and doing just as good a job at parenting. As Mark, single dad of two sons, puts it: "When you have to do it then you just get on with it, for your kids' sake."

These dads don't want accolades; they just want it to be seen as normal. Women have been structuring their work life around their children's needs since the beginning of civilisation and nobody steps back in surprise to say "what a good mum" because of it. It's seen as normal.

It should be seen as normal for a dad to do this as well. The fact it isn't considered normal has allowed dads to get off the childcare hook and head for work or the pub. Many still do, and many of us think we have done our bit by doing a few dishes or buying a microwavable meal on the way home from work then telling a bedtime story. As I say, the revolution is brewing, but is yet to come to the boil. However, those fathers who don't want to get off the hook need to be encouraged and supported. With five children, I am well aware of the difficulties in work-life balance, but in the end we have to make our own priorities.

Sadly the political discourse on gender equality seems to be stuck on a perspective of the 1970s. It's as if the politicians haven't noticed the revolution brewing in fatherhood or recognised its potential role in breaking down broader gender inequality.

But like the suffragettes 100 years ago, dads are organising themselves and challenging gender inequality through action. Organisations such as Dads Rock are part of the grassroots social change in fatherhood. Set up by two Edinburgh fathers who couldn't find any playgroups for dads in the Edinburgh area, it provides a space for fathers to meet with their children.

Another example is Dynamic Dads run by Midlothian Sure Start. This provides a supportive space for fathers to spend quality time with their children. Part of the appeal is the opportunity to meet other dads because isolation is a key problem when a man is looking after the children. I experienced this myself, and found the dads' playgroup run by Dadswork invaluable.

Women are part of this change too. Michelle Davidson, who has run the parent education services at NHS Lothian, has pioneered dads2b courses in partnership with Sure Start, in which expectant dads are offered a four-week course to prepare them for their impending fatherhood. The course sees dads as equal partners in a shared parenting journey. Despite limited funding, the take-up and feedback have been excellent. "It gave me the confidence to know I am capable," says one participant.

The recent shared parental leave legislation, which came into effect last April, has been heralded as a major step forward. Parents can now decide to share the 52 weeks maternity leave and 39 week of statutory pay. Sounds good, but it falls far short because there is no part designated for fathers. If a dad wants more time with his baby he has to take leave from the mother, and she must be willing to give it to him. Consequently, predicted take-up is very low. In Sweden, the designated two months paid paternal leave for fathers is almost universally taken up, significantly boosting gender equality in that country.

Here in the UK, real progress won't be achieved until it becomes culturally unacceptable for men to avoid taking on their share. Designated paternal leave would do precisely that. If we are serious about equal rights for men and women then we need a cultural transformation in which fatherhood and motherhood are seen as two sides of the same coin, of equal status and with the same expectations and responsibilities.

Exclusion and negative stereotyping of fathers must end, and their involvement has to be actively promoted through policies such as "dad-proofing": which means organisations taking steps to ensure fathers feel included rather than excluded. Such a policy is operated at Prestonpans Infant School, where my daughter is in Primary 1, to ensure conscious efforts are made to incorporate a father's dimension in everyday teaching.

As I write. I am looking forward to tomorrow as the school is being opened to dads for a Father's Day massage from their own children. My daughter is lucky enough to have a male teacher who has shown her that nurture and empathy is not gender-specific at school.

Fathers who are separated from their children's mother can be at the sharp end of gender inequality, since the default position within courts and social services is still that children should be with the mother. When there is conflict between parents, dads often have to prove themselves as worthy of the right even to have access.

This exclusion is damaging our children. All the evidence shows that having a loving nurturing dad in a child's life is in the child's interest.

So since today is Father's Day let us say loud and clear that discrimination against dads must no longer be ignored by politicians and policy-makers. Next year has been designated Year Of The Dad, and as part of it there will be the creation of a "Father's Pledge", which is it is hoped will involve service providers, dads and employers getting together to find ways to dad-proof society. Let all who believe in equality support this and make it a partner to the "Women's Pledge", because they are, as I have said, two sides of the same coin.

If a woman can be first minister then a man can nurture and care for his children. Ending gender inequality is possible, but only if we recognise that women are not the only victims of it.

Tim Porteus is a storyteller and writer who works with dads, people in marginalised communities and who is currently dads co-ordinator for a voluntary sector organisation. This essay is written in a personal capacity.

Year of the Dad is being run by Fathers Network Scotland with the Scottish Government and a raft of groups keen to see things change www.yearofthedad.org