Families are the key to gender equality, but only if they evolve

Families are the key to gender equality, but only if they evolve

Families have been a deeply paradoxical space for women in particular. Families can be a source of love, life, but also of struggle, inequality, and violence.

According to the United Nations Global Study on Homicide, in 2012, 47% of all women who became victims of homicide had been killed by a family member or intimate partner, while only 6% of men were.

There is also evidence that income and resources in the family are not always pooled together or equally shared between partners. This can lead to domestic gender inequality. In both developed and developing countries, men are more likely to spend family income on their own personal expenses and have more free time.

How can families be better designed for women?

Gender-equal families

International Day of Families offers a great opportunity to reflect and think about how families can become agents of equality for women and gender.

In international law, the protection of family is closely related to the principle of non-discrimination and equality. This means that all family members must have the same rights and liberties regardless of age or gender.

As social reality changes, so too has the perception of what non-discrimination is.

Several countries, such as Brazil, Finland, and Spain, recognize same-sex relationships, and others provide legal protections to children born outside of marriage and single-parent families. It was unthinkable 50 years ago.

People who are concerned that the new family structures will threaten their religious values, personal beliefs, or social norms may react violently.

It is essential to know what needs to change and what these changes will entail. This is the only way to ensure that policies aimed at empowering women and girls are effective.

Women who Wait

The trend is already in the right direction. Women’s voices and agency in the family are increasing around the world. Women are delaying marriage in many countries, partly because they are pursuing a career and attending school longer.

Women in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel region, where marriages are common and early, delayed marriages between 1980 and 2010. This was between 3 and 6 years, depending on the country. In 2010, the average marrying age of women in the Middle East and North Africa ranged between 22 and 29 years. And, in almost all countries, it now exceeds the legal minimum for marriage without parental consent.

In the region, delaying marriage is associated with better health outcomes for women and children as well as gains in higher education.

Women in East Asia are not only delaying marriage but also not marrying at all. In 2015, over half of Japanese women in their 30s did not live with a partner or were. This is a relatively new phenomenon.

Experts in the region have said that Japanese women’s roles have changed. They are no longer just caregivers. They work, travel, and have aspirations beyond the confines of their homes. They are no longer only caregivers. They work, travel, and have ambitions beyond the confines of the house.

Men are not changing. Men have not taken on a more proactive role in caring for children and elderly parents. Working parents are also challenged by the very long hours of work required for many jobs.

In other words, East Asia’s gender revolution is still incomplete. Women may have aspirations and new roles, but they are difficult to achieve when no one recognises them.

are investing heavily in services for social care. Acknowledging that caring for ailing relatives puts a serious burden on spouses and daughters, in 2000 Japan adopted a government-susbidised long-term care insurance policy. South Korea followed suit in 2008.

These initiatives may help women, but they do not replace the need for families to change.

Women working

Women are increasingly the breadwinners in their families, and this trend is helping to undermine patriarchy. It also improves family financial security.

In the US for instance, real wages are falling since the mid-1970s , even though productivity is increasing . The increased participation of females in the workforce has helped families to survive. The women’s labour force participation rate is now 57% , up from 38% in 1960 .

The proportion of Latin American households with women as the primary earners has also increased. It went from 28% to 32% between 2002 and 2014. The greater financial independence of women has increased their bargaining power and voice within the family.

The gender revolution is again truncated. In Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia to name just a few, where women’s labour participation has increased over the last 25 years, women are taking on more paid jobs while still doing most of the unpaid domestic and care work. It leaves little time for rest, leisure and self-care.

Women who Struggle

The flip side of female economic power is more harsh: women are increasingly taking on primary financial and childcare responsibilities in absence of men.

The typical nuclear family, which consists of two parents and their children, is less common in many countries. This is because women have more freedom to choose how they want to raise their families, and many are doing so alone.

Single parenting is often unintentional. Women are often abandoned or fleeing abusive spouses.

When husbands are unable to work at home, they look for jobs elsewhere. In South Africa, for instance, where there is a history of male migration, a study from 2014 found that only 35% lived with their parents, 41% with just their mothers, and 21% with neither. This was despite the fact that 83% of children had a living parent.

In Zimbabwe, only 43% of the children lived with both their parents. 25% of them lived with just their mother (in over 80% of these cases, the father was still alive). 29% of those cases, neither parent is present. This difficult situation is probably due to the economic collapse of the country and the migration of many citizens to South Africa.

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