CAREGIVING BURDEN MUST BE VALUED, SHARED, SUPPORTED BY GOVERNMENTS AS CRUCIAL TO SUSTAINING SOCIETY, BUILDING HUMAN CAPITAL, WOMEN'S COMMISSION TOLD
The work of caregiving in the home, be it to raise a young child or nurse a relative sick with HIV/AIDS, must be valued by society, financially supported by Governments and shared more equally between women and men, gender equality experts said today as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its session.
(Media-Newswire.com) - The work of caregiving in the home, be it to raise a young child or nurse a relative sick with HIV/AIDS, must be valued by society, financially supported by Governments and shared more equally between women and men, gender equality experts said today as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its session.
Caregiving was not only essential for maintaining social fabric and building human capital, it was also a much better indicator of a society’s quality of life than its gross domestic product, said Shahra Razavi, Research Coordinator of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development ( UNRISD ).
Women and girls shouldered most of the burden of unpaid care worldwide, spending on average of twice as much time on it as men, she pointed out. That was particularly challenging in low-income countries where the lack of such basics as modern appliances, running water and indoor electricity meant women spent hours fetching water and fuel. Wealthy women could afford maids and nannies, but poor women bore the burden alone, leaving them little or no time for training, education, political activities and leisure. And women caring for relatives could not strike for not being paid or because Government’s were unresponsive. There was a need for strong constituencies to demand accountability on the issue.
Ms. Razavi made her comments during the Commission’s morning panel discussion on key policy initiatives on equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.
She said reliable social and care services were needed in all countries, and that State-led care services could have a triple payoff of providing quality care while creating decent service employment and enhancing women’s choices to engage in paid work. Further, unpaid care work must be recognized as employment in national social security schemes so that people in the informal economy -- which comprised as much as 50 per cent of the workforce in some low-income countries -- received the same pension and parental leave benefits as formal sector workers. Paid care workers needed decent wages and working conditions on par with non-care workers. States with fiscal and regulatory capacities to regulate non-State providers must subsidize some of the services for low-income people, so that everyone, not just the rich, could access care.
Echoing those concerns, Marilyn Waring, Professor of Public Policy at the Institute of Public Policy at AUT University in New Zealand, said the invisibility of women’s care work was not an accident. It was a strategic choice made through a series of United Nations rules imposed on countries in 1953 which described all women’s unpaid work as “of little or no importance” to national accounts and excluded unpaid “household and caring work” ‑‑ such as house or office cleaning, meal preparation, and caring for children or sick relatives ‑‑ from economic analysis and policymaking. That meant that caring for HIV/AIDS patients was not considered labour, nor did any international law protect children from doing such work and, therefore, from child labour exploitation.
Strategic public policymaking required reliable and complete data, she said, stressing that it was hard to implement programmes if workers were invisible. Surveys consistently showed that unpaid household work was the largest sector of a nation’s economy, but the United Nations guide on the conduct of those surveys made it difficult to determine how much time was devoted to care work. It was not helpful if figures were constructed to fit hours worked into a tidy 24-hour day since that was not how women lived their lives. Nor was using estimation to measure and value unpaid work.
For example, if a caregiver for someone with HIV made six trips, three times a day to secure water, it was not important to know the market value of the water carried, she said. What were important were when the woman travelled, where she went and whether she carried the water. The nature of the work done in the giving of care was more important for policymakers. Further, if one third of primary health care was provided at home, as demonstrated by local surveys, then one third of federal primary health-care budgets must be directed to those people. That was not a difficult concept to understand in terms of human rights. But as long as household work was excluded from national accounts, women would not make progress.
Speaking during the afternoon panel on capacity-building for mainstreaming a gender perspective into national policies and programmes to support equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS was Gary Barker, Senior Technical Advisor on Gender, Violence and Rights at the International Centre for Research on Women and Coordinator of the MenEngage Alliance. He said it was important to ask whether Governments had done enough to construct gender policies that promoted men’s involvement in caregiving. While research showed that men were participating more in caregiving than was commonly thought, they still spent relatively little time on it.
During economic downturns, he noted, men lost jobs in greater numbers than women, but there was no shift in the amount of care men were providing at home. In Latin America, there were anecdotal cases where men played with or helped educate their children, but as a whole they were not involved as full partners in direct activities such as food preparation and bathing. Public policies were needed to promote men’s caregiving, he said, stressing that fatherhood preparation courses and information campaigns aimed at increasing men’s roles in their children’s lives often led to better male attitudes towards women and children.
The morning interactive panel was moderated by Commission Vice-Chair Ara Margarian ( Armenia ), and also featured presentations by Patricia Espinosa Torres, Under-Secretary-General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare of Mexico; and Joseph Aimé Bidiga, Head of the Department of Health of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council to combat HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso.
The afternoon panel was moderated by Commission Vice-Chair Park Enna ( Republic of Korea ), and also featured presentations by Giedre Purvaneckiene, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Vilnius in Lithuania; Bafana Khumalo of the Sonke Gender Justice Network of South Africa; and Naomi Cassirer, Senior Technical Specialist with the Conditions of Work and Employment Programme of the International Labour Organization ( ILO ).
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 March to continue its fifty-third session.
The Commission on the Status of Women continued its fifty-third session today with an expert panel discussion on “Key policy initiatives on the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”. ( For further background, please see Press Release WOM/1710 of 23 February ).
Opening the morning discussion, moderator ARA MARGARIAN ( Armenia ) said Governments had made commitments on the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men at various events, including at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the 1995 World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly in 2000.
Despite such commitments, however, the unequal sharing of responsibilities persisted in all parts of the world, he said. Gender inequality contributed to imbalance in the division of labour, and perpetuated stereotypes of men as “breadwinners” and women as “caregivers”. As a result, the potential of women and girls to participate in education and training, the labour market and the public sphere was constrained, as was men’s potential to contribute to people’s care. While in some countries men’s involvement in parenting had increased, concerted efforts were needed to increase their role in caregiving and to facilitate the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities.
He said women and girls also bore the major responsibility for care of family members living with HIV/AIDS, and for children orphaned by the disease, which often negatively impacted girls as they dropped out of school. In addition, women and girls were often responsible for providing an income to support surviving family members. The HIV/AIDS pandemic showed the need for increased involvement of all stakeholders in care work: the State; private sector; civil society; and households. Policymakers must recognize that care was a critical societal function, and a multisectoral approach ‑‑ which increased investment in quality public services ‑‑ was needed to reduce the care burden on households.
The first panellist, PATRICIA ESPINOSA TORRES, Under-Secretary-General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare of Mexico, shed light on key policy initiatives in Mexico to achieve gender equality in public and private life. Women’s participation in the economic sphere was limited due to the tendency to undervalue women’s work, segregate women based on their occupation and subject them to pay discrimination. Also, women’s lower levels of training had often led them to shoulder career and family responsibilities simultaneously, leaving them little time for enhanced training, leisure, union activities and political involvement. Those factors, among others, impeded women’s equal opportunity for employment, as well as their social equilibrium and quality of life in society as a whole. Reconciling family and work life could resolve those problems to the benefit of both sexes. To achieve that, Governments should promote measures that guaranteed an equitable division of productive work, such as paternity leave, childcare services and campaigns to raise awareness about paternal responsibility and the need to erase gender stereotypes.
She encouraged urgent action to foster an equitable and humane labour culture that reduced stress, increased work and family satisfaction, lowered worker absenteeism, bolstered productivity, provided for decent work and improved quality of life. Implementation of Convention No. 156 of the International Labour Organization ( ILO ) concerning equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women workers and workers with family responsibilities had varied from one region of the world to another due to various cultural, social and economic factors. Not until the 1990s did Latin America begin to take steps that recognized the right and need of people to balance family and work life without discrimination. In Mexico, the number of women in the workforce had jumped from 17.6 per cent in 1970 to 37.3 per cent in 2008. Thirty per cent of Mexican women today were employed in informal jobs that were not regulated by labour, tax and social security laws, making it difficult for them to balance work and family life.
The Mexican Government had strengthened its legal and institutional framework in a bid to end discrimination and marginalization of women and other vulnerable groups, she said. Several Mexican laws prohibited discriminatory practices, gender stereotyping and gender segregation in the workplace; promoted gender equality in private life; criminalized sexual violence and assault in the workplace; and facilitated creation of training and vocational centres and services to assist female victims of violence. The National Programme for Equality Between Women and Men, known as PROIGUALDAD, sought to provide a level playing field for women and men in terms of pay and work conditions, while the Child Care to Support Working Mothers Programme run by the Social Development Secretariat provided a $70 monthly stipend to working mothers with children under 5 years of age and helped parents of young children find jobs.
Speaking next, MARILYN WARING, Professor of Public Policy at the Institute of Public Policy at AUT University in New Zealand, said the invisibility of women’s caring work was not an accident: it was a strategic choice made in another United Nations body. It occurred in a series of rules imposed on countries in 1953. The United Nations system of national accounts described all women’s unpaid work “of little or no importance”. The rules established a boundary of production, which made data collection fundamental to Government’s strategic priorities. A simple equation was operating: “if you are invisible as a producer in an economy, you will be invisible in the distribution of benefits”.
To make strategic public policy, she said textured, reliable and complete data sets with explanatory value were needed. It was hard to implement programmes if workers were invisible, and it was vital to understand the rules that needed attention. Paragraph 1.72 of her written statement distinguished voluntary unpaid care outside the home, from care undertaken by one household member for another. Paragraph 1.82 made clear that unpaid “household and caring work” was not important at all for economic analysis and policymaking. Excluded were work such as house or office cleaning; preparation and serving of meals; care of children; care of the sick and transportation of household members. That meant that caring for HIV/AIDS patients was not considered work, no matter how intensive it was. No international law protected children from doing such work either; since it was not considered labour, they could not be exploited by doing it.
On time-use surveys, she said such research had consistently found that unpaid household work was the largest sector of a nation’s economy. The United Nations guide on the conduct of those surveys made it difficult to determine how much time was devoted to care work. It was not helpful if figures were constructed to fit hours worked into a tidy 24-hour day ‑‑ that was not how women lived their lives. On measuring and valuing unpaid work, estimation or “imputation” was not necessary. For example, if a caregiver for someone with HIV made six trips, three times a day to secure water, it was not important to know the market value of the water carried. What were important were when the woman travelled, where she went and whether she carried the water. The nature of the work done in the giving of care was more important for policymakers.
On making public health policy in an “evidence vacuum”, one issue was the early discharge of patients from care facilities, which assumed there was a reserve army of unpaid labour that could resume responsibilities, she said. Finally, on human rights, she focused on context: to what extent did the different treatment of women compromise their ability to participate in political and community life, or to exercise their right to lifelong education? As long as household work was excluded from national accounts, women would not make progress.
JOSEPH AIMÉ BIDIGA, Head of the Department of Health of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council to combat HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso, said the concept of gender was not wholly understood in developing countries. HIV/AIDS was first identified in his country in 1986, for which various mechanisms had been set up. Today, there was a national committee to deal with the pandemic, and Burkina Faso had launched a multisectoral approach to combating the disease.
Focusing first on statistics, he said that in 1997, HIV/AIDS prevalence stood at 7.17 per cent among the general population; today, it was at 1.6 per cent. Despite that drop, Burkina Faso was still in the grips of a major epidemic, as seen, for example, in the numbers of sex workers in the country. In 1997, the Secretariat undertook a study, which analysed gender-linked programmes to combat HIV/AIDS. It found there were disparities between men and women in both rural and urban areas. There was a higher HIV/AIDS prevalence among women ‑‑ rather than men ‑‑ under the age of 25. That was explained, in part, by their earlier exposure to sex and intergenerational sex. As the population grew older, there was a higher HIV/AIDS incidence among men. Among groups that did not work, women had a higher incidence, which reflected the impacts of poverty.
As for what Burkina Faso had done to address issues, such as caregiving, he said that, while the principle of non-discrimination was enshrined in the Constitution, there were deficiencies in its implementation. Nonetheless, the Women’s Affairs Ministry implemented policies to provide for women’s socio-economic well-being, while the strategic framework to HIV/AIDS for 2006 to 2010 took into account the gender dimension in combating the disease. A law provided protection for those with HIV/AIDS. Burkina Faso also wished to provide male contraceptives, and various civil society organizations were working on gender issues. Challenges included a lack of services to enhance the capacities of those in the “gender sphere” and effective implementation of the laws. Burkina Faso had acceded to all international instruments relating to women and family.
SHAHRA RAZAVI, Research Coordinator of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development ( UNRISD ), said care was commonly thought of as home-based caring of children and other family members. But unpaid care work involved meal preparation and cleaning and shopping, which was particularly time-consuming in many poor countries where such infrastructure as piped water, domestic appliances, ready-made food and clothing were limited. Unpaid care was not just provided in the home. Markets, Governments and the not-for-profit sector also provided it. After a patient left the hospital, it was taken for granted that someone at home would provide follow-up care free of charge. Care was said to be important in building human capital or as part of social investment. But such capital was not just produced by universities and hospitals. It was also produced by elementary schools and households on an unpaid basis. Care was essential for keeping together a society’s social fabric. How a society addressed the issue of dependency and care was a much better indicator of quality of life than the gross domestic product ( GDP ).
Much of the burden of unpaid care, however, was shouldered by women and girls, she said. Evidence now existed, thanks to surveys in rich and developing countries alike, that women spent on average twice as much time as men on unpaid care work. In some countries, women spent 10 times more time on unpaid care as men and the amount of unpaid care work tended to decrease as incomes went up. Unpaid care work had rewards for the caregiver and care-receiver, but it was very time-consuming, limiting the caregiver’s ability to engage in training, education, political activities and leisure. Good care required time and money. So-called “time poverty” was not just about being pressed for time. It was one thing to be time-poor and income-rich, but another to be time-poor and income-poor, and yet another to be time-rich and income-poor, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where communities had been hit hard by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Gender intersected with social class, she said, noting that there were huge income inequalities among women in different socio-economic groups within the same society. Rich women everywhere could hire nannies and maids to do their care work, but poor women shouldered that burden alone. Policies were necessary to support caregiving and share the burden more equally. Several areas stood out for policy action. The importance of investment in appropriate infrastructure such as potable water, sanitation and electricity that would reduce the time women spent fetching fuel and water ‑‑ particularly burdensome when caring for an HIV/AIDS patient ‑‑ could not be overemphasized. Reliable social and care services were needed in all countries. State-led care services could have a triple pay off: providing quality care; creating decent service employment; and enhancing women’s choices to engage in paid work.
Unpaid care work must be recognized in national social security schemes, she said, noting that in low-income countries as much as 50 per cent of the workforce was employed in the informal sector and was, therefore, not entitled to benefits. That situation must change. Further, paid care workers needed decent wages and working conditions on par with non-care workers. The nurse earned much less than the engineer, even though both had the same level of education and training. As the Secretary-General had noted, greater involvement of all stakeholders was needed in care work. That required States with fiscal and regulatory capacities to regulate non-State providers and subsidize some of the services for low-income people, so that everyone, not just the rich, was able to access care.
In the first round of questions and comments to the panellists, speakers wondered about areas in which Government-driven initiatives in the equal sharing of responsibilities were especially vital; which tools and strategies policymakers should use to enhance gender equality; examples of States’ good practices in time-use survey data; and ways to sensitize societies to the fact that women did not need sympathy and were contributing in many fields. How could the concept of extended families be examined ‑‑ and more efficiently organized ‑‑ in the care-sharing paradigm? Also, if invisible work was important at the United Nations, why did its accounting system not consider it?
On HIV/AIDS prevalence, several speakers focused on national measures to curb the spread of the disease, particularly among women, and to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted with it. The representative of Senegal underscored the importance of education, saying that men had been “forgotten”, as they had not been held accountable for their behaviour. She proposed an “ABC strategy” that emphasized abstinence, condom use and faithfulness to one’s partner. On the issue of family support, another delegate asked about measuring the care given by an eight-year old girl to her siblings or parents. What strategies could be used to rescue her?
On a similar note, a civil society representative called for policy initiatives to end violence against women, including domestic violence, which were a prerequisite to achieving gender equality. Policies that valued caregiving responsibilities among women and men, both in the home and community, must be integrated into HIV strategies. Above all, caregivers must be included as decision makers in HIV/AIDS policies, plans and programmes.
A representative of the International Alliance of Women wondered about the ultimate goal of the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men. Recalling comments by economist Amartya Sen that changes in legal frameworks for development planning should aim to grant women greater liberties and freedom, she asked what was required to keep that goal in focus. Were there indicators to help measure such elusive goals?
Responding to the delegates’ interventions on how to legally regulate the equal sharing of family responsibilities, Ms. ESPINOSA TORRES said Mexico had adopted several laws, including a new labour law, which addressed that issue. It was important to look at work patterns and pay scales in society and the existing opportunities for men and women in order to better balance work and family life. Mexico had workshops for men, and school programmes to teach families how to achieve that balance. The Mexican Government had also channelled resources into family-related health and education programmes.
Mr. BIDIGA said gender was not just about biology, but also about social rules that determined what was appropriate for one gender and not another. Regarding data on HIV/AIDS and the relationship between gender and HIV/AIDS, he said there was a need for more studies that addressed the gender dimension of the disease. He suggested that the World Health Organization ( WHO ) could conduct a study on the impact of genital mutilation on a woman’s risk for contracting HIV/AIDS to help end the practice. As for accounting systems to determine the monetary value of unpaid work by women, he said such systems were necessary.
Addressing the same issue, Ms. WARING said the lack of data on the monetary value of unpaid work was a question of time-use services and lack of resources. Diaries were the most sophisticated form of time-use collection and data. There was no need for very sophisticated nationwide surveys. The data could and should be collected locally. That had been done successfully in Pakistan, for example, where schoolchildren compiled household time-use diaries for all family members, including children. A sophisticated national survey would not include the activities of children as work, making it impossible to understand the needs of young girls pulled out of school to care for sick family members versus young boys withdrawn from school for the same purpose. If one third of primary health care was provided at home, as demonstrated by local surveys, then one third of federal primary health-care budgets must be directed to those people. That was not a difficult concept to understand in terms of human rights.
Ms. RAZAVI said people doing unpaid care work were not going on strike because they were unpaid or because Government policies were unresponsive. Mothers would continue to care for their sick children, and grandmothers for their grandchildren, regardless of the situation. There must be strong constituencies around that issue demanding some kind of accountability. It was really a question of politics. As to whether there were resource constraints to determine the value and extent of home-based unpaid care, including childcare, many communities in low-income countries relied on donor financing. But it was often difficult to sustain such programmes because wayward donors, who made decisions based on what was “fashionable” in aid circles, often abandoned a programme in one country after a year or two for a project in another. As to whether the dilemma surrounding unpaid care was a question of culture, she noted that culture was not carved in stone; cultures changed rapidly and that fact must be taken into account when assigning gender roles and responsibilities in society.
In a second round of questions and comments, speakers asked how to overcome inequalities in the sharing of responsibilities, particularly in a globalized world; change societal attitudes towards illiterate women; achieve women’s full participation in the creation of effective legislation, particularly for caregiving work; and include women’s unpaid work in Government accounting.
On the last issue, the representative of Togo challenged the United Nations to address Government accounting for unpaid work and asked for specific recommendations to do that. She suggested Governments draw up budgets that examined gender issues.
Similarly, the representative of Malaysia asked for examples of countries that had recognized unpaid work in their accounting of gross domestic product. If there were any, how had that been done? Also, was there a way to remunerate unpaid work?
The delegate of Croatia was surprised at Ms. Waring’s statement that there was no international law to protect children who undertook unpaid work. She urged upholding the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A representative from the European Youth Forum focused on the need to highlight girls and young women in gender policies, and asked about including age-specific dimensions in gender policies and in the planning of public services. Another civil society representative suggested creating a “clearing house” of examples of best practices.
Responding to the delegates, Ms. ESPINOSA TORRES said indeed it was important to put more women in decision-making posts in Government, as well as to increase federal budgets for women’s empowerment in the home, the public sphere and infrastructure. Mexico had launched school training programmes to enable students to find appropriate jobs upon graduation. Mexican law prohibited the employment of children under the age of 14, and it had recently increased the penalty for violators of that law to $2,500.
Mr. BIDIGA said the United Nations was in a position to assess non-paid work for women and thus help contribute to gender equality. It was also important to target age groups with appropriate policies.
Concerning the question of human rights and children, Ms. WARING said the problem was that many children were engaged in activities that were not considered work under international law and, therefore, as had been said previously, they were not considered to be exploited. But in fact, the children were working and they were being exploited. Many subsistence activities of men, such as home construction, transportation and shoe repair, were counted as self-employment, while most women’s activities were not. Such definitions of work that were currently excluded should be included. Prior to 1953, Norway had included all unpaid activities in the GDP. When the United Nations set rules for compiling GDP in 1953, it called Norwegian officials to New York and told them to exclude unpaid activities from the equation. As the world was in a major global recession, there would be claims of a massive drop in production in all countries. But the reality was that there had not been a fall-off in services. Rather there had been a large shift of service production from the market economy to the unpaid household economy. The work was still being performed, but no one was measuring it.
Ms. RAZAVI said the idea of setting up separate accounts through which household breadwinners could contribute funds in order to provide for unpaid caregivers in the home should be mandatory, and not voluntary. A social security provision for time taken out to care for a relative should be offered to everyone regardless of sex. Argentina had a good system in that regard. In South Africa, low-income elderly people were given social pensions regardless of their work history. In some countries, everyone received a social pension in old age, regardless of wealth. Such systems should be replicated elsewhere to ensure a social safety net for everyone. She also lauded South Africa’s policy of granting child support to anyone who cared for another family member or person. She expressed concern, however, that some countries had good cash-transfer programmes for women caring for their children, but did not provide the mothers with training forums and programmes to re-enter the labour market later on. Argentina had a comprehensive programme in that regard, which other countries could replicate.
Opening the discussion this afternoon on capacity-building for mainstreaming a gender perspective into national policies and programmes to support the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, was Chairperson PARK ENNA ( Republic of Korea ). She drew attention to the Secretary-General’s report on the issue ( document E/CN.6/2009/4 ), saying that the panel would focus on measures taken by Governments at the national and regional levels, and within organizations, to build capacities to mainstream the gender perspective. It would also discuss the extent to which unpaid domestic and care work were addressed in national and regional policies and examine measures to help women and men reconcile their paid work and caregiving responsibilities. Stereotypical assumptions about women and men would also be considered, as well as measures taken to involve men and boys in caregiving, including in the context of HIV/AIDS.
Taking the floor first, HEISOO SHIN, Professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Women’s University in the Republic of Korea, focused on the relevance of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to the theme. The Convention, ratified by 185 countries, made it clear that raising children was the responsibility of both men and women. Moreover, States parties were obliged to eliminate stereotypical prejudices and customs. In that context, she said time-use surveys should be regularly conducted.
Gender stereotyping was the most important cause of unequal sharing of responsibilities between men and women, she explained. It was based on perceptions of women as caregivers and men as providers. Stereotypes were prevalent in all societies, developed and developing alike, and applied to all women, regardless of economic status. The subsequent unequal sharing of responsibilities resulted in inequality in all areas of women’s lives: education; employment; political decision-making; health; sports; and violence.
Stereotyping was created and transmitted from generation to generation through the socialization process in various institutions ‑‑ families, media and religious teaching among them. She urged the development of legislation that prohibited negative stereotypes and encouraged both equal sharing and awareness-raising campaigns targeted towards parents, teachers, media producers and community leaders.
Turning to Asia, she said most Asian countries had policies to review textbooks and provide the same curricula to both male and female students. Many countries had separate legislation on domestic violence; however, punishment of the perpetrators was still weak. Marital rape, date rape, and stalking were not recognized, and many women who died at their husbands’ hands were not counted. Long-term programmes and policies were needed. Highlighting achievements, she said Japan had taken regular public opinion polls on gender equality and gender roles. In Thailand, she drew attention to the “White Ribbon Campaign”, which involved men working to end men’s violence against women.
Among the challenges were a lack of comprehensive and coordinated efforts; effective monitoring and impact assessment; adequate budget allocation and gender-sensitive budgeting; a lack of data; scant involvement of men and boys; and the economic crisis. On that last point, she said experiences during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s showed that achievements could be eroded by massive lay-offs of women, for which special programmes and policies were needed.
Speaking next, GIEDRE PURVANECKIENE, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Vilnius in Lithuania, said men and women must be able to enjoy the same rights and equally share the same tasks. Traditionally, women were more involved in childcare, which was among the major obstacles to gender equality. She urged developing measures to reconcile work and family life.
In the European Union, the road map for equality between women and men for 2006 to 2010 and related measures were closely linked to achieving economic independence equally among women and men. That priority was echoed in the European Pact for Gender Equality. Generally, employment rates of women in Europe were high, close to or exceeding 60 per cent in some countries, such as in the Baltic States. It was generally highest in Nordic countries, and lowest in Southern European nations. On the question of part-time work, there were about four times more women engaged in part-time work than men.
She said care facilities were important for working women. Their availability was directly related to maternity and paternity leaves, both of which varied greatly throughout Europe. Payments during leave were flat rate; presently, the longest parental leave was in Lithuania. Recently, new social guarantees had been introduced for those using parental leave. Despite the right of both parents to take leave, those who used it most were mothers, and the longer the leave, the greater the likelihood of being considered a secondary earner.
To attract men to childcare, Iceland, Sweden and Norway used the so-called “father’s quota” in parental leave ‑‑ meaning that some part of that leave should be taken only by the father, or it would be lost for the family, she said. Iceland’s system was considered the most successful ‑‑ the parental leave benefit constituted 80 per cent of salary, with no “ceiling”. Such new arrangements stimulated increased fertility and had brought Iceland to second place in Europe, after Turkey.
Turning to the Baltic countries, she said fathers were entitled to paternity leave during the mother’s maternity leave. In Lithuania, paternity leave lasted one month and provided 100 per cent of earnings compensation. In the Nordic countries, shared parental leave was based on the sharing of responsibilities, while in the Baltic countries, paternity leave was taken “to assist women” during their maternity leave. To address gender stereotypes, solutions must include long-lasting activities to change people’s minds towards more egalitarian gender roles.
All measures to implement policies should be equally available to, and equally used by, women and men. If only women used them, only they would tackle the contradictions between work and family obligations. To achieve the goal of equal sharing of responsibilities, full participation was needed.
GARY BARKER, Senior Technical Advisor on Gender, Violence and Rights at the International Centre for Research on Women and Coordinator of the MenEngage Alliance, said it was important to ask if societies had given up on changing men’s roles and attitudes in the context of family caregiving and whether Governments had done enough to construct gender policies that promoted men’s involvement in caregiving. Recent research showed that men were participating in caregiving, in their own ways, more than was commonly thought. It was true that in Latin America, women’s participation in the out-of-home labour market had increased steadily in the last 20 years, while men’s participation had either remained the same or declined. During economic downturns, men lost jobs in greater numbers than women, but there was no shift in the amount of care men were providing at home. The number of women-headed households in Latin America had increased. In some parts of the region, one in every three households was headed by women.
But men still spent a relatively small amount of time caring for children, he said. In Latin America, there were anecdotal cases where men were involved in children’s playtime and other lighter care activities like education, but they were generally not involved as full partners in direct activities such as food preparation and bathing. Social class and educational attainment were key variables. Middle-class men spent more time in childcare than low-income men in some countries, but the reverse was true in the Caribbean and Brazil. More initiatives were needed to promote engagement of fathers who did not live with their children. The involvement of fathers in childbirth and prenatal care could be a gateway for greater men’s participation. A policy of the World Health Organization ( WHO ) called for having women accompanied during childbirth, preferably by the child’s father. But it was largely a middle-class phenomenon that fathers were present at the hospital during childbirth. More must be done to engage men in social reproduction and childcare.
He warned that in some cases, however, men’s presence in the home could increase women’s domestic workload. Data from Brazil and Chile showed that, in a two-parent household, women did more work than in a single-parent household. Even when men carried out domestic chores, they gained little or no identity or social recognition for it. On the contrary, they were often shunned by their male peers. Public policies were needed to promote men’s caregiving. Studies showed that fatherhood preparation courses and information campaigns focusing on men’s roles in their children’s lives often led men to change their behaviour towards women and children for the better. But such initiatives must be scaled up and embedded into public policies. Sometimes a little information could go a long way. Men could be taught to change nappies and soothe crying babies just as much as they could be to go to war and work as engineers. It was essential to look for ways to engage the workplace and employers to create more flexible employment policies for better work-home balance. That was particularly true in developing countries where, in a bid to keep labour costs low and profits high, global corporations often skimped on benefits for workers.
BAFANA KHUMALO, Sonke Gender Justice Network of South Africa, said across the region, gender norms all too often condoned men’s violence against women, granted men the power to dictate the terms of sex, and made it difficult for women to protect themselves from either HIV or violence. Women generally missed out on education, as they cared for the sick, and the numbers suffering from HIV/AIDS were increasing. Care work was not paid; in many instances, it was not even considered work. Moreover, it was not accounted for in gross domestic product. Encouraging men to play a meaningful role in the care for those who could not care for themselves, he said: “We believe men can take on that meaningful role,” and also take part in other activities that would advance their lives.
He stressed that the burden of care was being left to citizens, rather than to Governments. Governments should be challenged to “come to the party” by providing both more care and resources, in order to, among other things, foster a change in mindset. Explaining that his organization encouraged men to accompany their partners to neonatal clinics, he said that most men returned with stories of negative experiences. There was a paradox: men were encouraged to take on more responsibility, yet health service systems often were not ready to accommodate them. He urged change at the Government services and community levels.
Related to that was the need to scale up preventive work, which would lessen the number of people who needed care, he said. For that, policies and programmes should be improved, including efforts to increase condom use and access to treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa, many Government bodies had stopped funding treatment because they had run out of money. He also urged scaling up work with men and boys, which was critical to changing the minds of those against the notions of equality. Engagement with religious leaders should also be stepped up, as they often reinforced stereotypes that prevented men from taking responsibility for home chores.
NAOMI CASSIRER, a Senior Technical Specialist with the Conditions of Work and Employment Programme of the International Labour Organization ( ILO ), said profound changes in the world of work and in families had increasingly strained families’ ability to balance care responsibilities with economic activities. The advent of urbanization, migration, changes in family formation, and women’s increased labour force participation in developed and developing countries alike had made traditional family support for care less available. Population ageing in some societies had increased the number of elderly requiring care, and in others, the HIV/AIDS and other health pandemics had placed greater caregiving demands on families, especially women and girls in poor households. Unpaid work must not limit women’s access to paid employment. Family responsibilities for unpaid family work must be more equitably distributed. Designing policies and measures that effectively mainstreamed gender equality objectives required the commitment of Governments, the private sector, trade unions and other actors.
The ILO’s Decent Work Agenda strove for economic growth through employment, social protection, social dialogue and rights at work, she said. ILO’s Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention No. 156, adopted in 1981, and its corresponding recommendation 165 called for legislation to make paid work more compatible with family demands and for working-time measures and social security measures that took family leave into account. The ILO had also adopted three maternity protection conventions, giving mothers the right to a period of paid rest after childbirth, with employment security and breastfeeding rights upon return. Convention No. 156 also called for the development of affordable, reliable and quality social care services to ease conflict between work and caring for relatives, which had been broadly recognized as cost-effective and gender-sensitive. There had been some discussions about the importance of better recognizing and valuing paid care work and unpaid work, which were inseparable.
She also called for decent work for paid caregivers, noting that there were approximately 100 million domestic workers worldwide, many from vulnerable groups. Legislation and policies must ensure that paid care work, including domestic work, was recognized, valued and compensated fairly and that workers were given rights and protections. The ILO’s Participatory Gender Audit was a flagship tool designed to provide guidance for policy and action in the workplace. It had steadily gained momentum in promoting gender responsiveness among ILO partners. ILO’s training centre in Turin provided courses on work-family reconciliation. There had clearly been a lot of progress in that regard. Paternity leave policies had improved in many countries, and greater attention had been placed on childcare, health care and other services to redistribute the unpaid work done by women. More efforts were needed to develop policy responses that were holistic and effectively encouraged men to take up more responsibilities.
In the ensuing discussion, a participant asked whether there was a standard methodology to measure gender sensitivity by using gender-sensitive indicators. Such indicators could help countries in the development of laws. Also, without a standard applicable methodology to monitor gender-sensitivity, it would be more difficult to monitor implementation.
Zambia’s representative asked about gender stereotypes and media institutions and about finding financial resources to change stereotypes.
The representative of the United States, responding to Ms. SHIN’s comments on her country’s history with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, noted that the Convention would be a priority for the new Obama Administration, which she represented.
Another delegate, saying that promoting gender equality was often difficult in countries where civil society was weak, asked about possible strategies to pursue in such countries. She also wondered about specific programmes to stimulate grass-roots involvement in the area of gender equality.
Responding first, Ms. SHIN congratulated the United States for its change in priorities. To the question on finding financial resources to eliminate stereotypes, particularly in the media, she said there was a tendency among developing countries to rely on outside resources. Many times, resources could be wasted. For example, in her country, a nation that had suffered from war and colonization, not all resources given by outside donors had been maximized. When resources became available from developed countries, it was most useful for them to directly assist grass-roots, community-level organizations as a sure way of empowering women.
The influence of the media could not be overstressed, she said to another point. Men often decided media’s direction, but delving deeper into the structure of media organizations revealed that many women were struggling against sexism and inequality. An effective way to fight stereotyping through the media would be to use women’s organizations to monitor programming, such as soap operas, and label them as “worst” or “best” programmes.
To the question on a standard methodology to monitor gender sensitivity, she underscored the importance of building good partnerships with civil society. By way of example, the Korea Women’s Hotline worked against domestic violence. In Seoul alone, it monitored district Government budgets, evaluated annually whether money was wisely used, and whether it reflected good programming.
Ms. PURVANECKIENE, on the issue of a standard methodology for gender-mainstreaming, added that there were international methods to compare country practices, such as publishing best practices, thereby making it possible for others to emulate them. As for using a universal standard, she preferred open coordination of methods.
Responding next, on engaging the media to change stereotypes, Mr. BARKER said doing so would be an excellent use of resources. Studies suggested that it worked best when mass media was combined with media at local levels.
To a question on paternity leave, he said the Nordic experience had gone through years of adjustment before large-scale acceptance. It was important to recognize that Governments were willing to experiment with it.
Ms. CASSIRER, speaking about leave policies, said it was important to monitor the take-up rates. On paternity leave, it could be interesting to look at how men were spending their time, and how that could be improved to make it more effective for achieving the goals. To assess the gender sensitivity of policies, there were gender-audits and efforts under way in many countries to enhance gender mainstreaming in employment policies and programmes, as well as in employers’ activities.
One delegate asked if the greater presence of men in the home could lead to greater domestic violence, particularly in cases where men were hostile to taking on caregiving duties. Had efforts ended to change men’s attitudes towards caregiving? How was domestic and care work valued? To what extent had faith-based organizations been engaged to ensure better gender equity and how had the results of that involvement been used in policies and programmes? One delegate asked Mr. Barker to elaborate on the specific programmes of MenEngage Alliance. Another asked him about the role of youth in advancing gender equality.
Responding, Ms. CASSIRER, speaking about valuing paid caregiving, said there were objective job evaluations that examined skills needed for specific tasks. For domestic workers, she urged extending recognition of their work in labour legislation, saying that women were entitled to minimum wage policies enjoyed by others in the workforce. To the concern expressed by some that the panel had not addressed the private sector, she said employers’ associations were involved in addressing the needs of their workers, particularly in reconciling the responsibilities of work and family.
Mr. BARKER, speaking on how to know whether men would actually provide care when given the opportunity, said there were many options available if men became violent. It was important to acknowledge that changing attitudes was not an easy process; however, men could be taught to be caregivers. For example, schools could prevent boys from receiving a secondary diploma without a course in paternity. There were also courses in day care and volunteer activities that could be made available to young men, which would introduce them to new responsibilities.
As for the work of the MenEngage Alliance, he said the organization developed training materials, along with the United Nations Development Fund for Women ( UNIFEM ) and United Nations Population Fund ( UNFPA ), and initiated advocacy campaigns and dialogue with Governments and the United Nations. It was organizing a symposium on better ways to engage men and boys in sharing responsibilities.
Ms. SHIN, speaking on how to engage the media in fighting stereotypes, said one way was to work with the media in programme development. Work could also be done outside of programming. For example, the World Women’s Forum, held twice a year, was a partnership among Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Ewha Women’s University. As for engaging boys in sharing responsibilities, in the Republic of Korea, boys received extra credit for volunteer activities. Her son had learned at camp to wash his clothes. He had also enrolled in an extracurricular cooking class in high school.
Mr. KHUMALO described a project that focused on young boys, saying that it resulted in a changed attitude and increased participation of care work at home. Regarding men’s participation in house chores, he cited a study showing that women had complained that men were invading their space. He urged continuous engagement with society on such issues.
Ms. PURVANECKIENE, speaking on paternity leave, said positive examples were important. She cited a Norwegian Prime Minister’s decision to take part in the “father’s quota”, and take a one-month paternity leave. That was important, not only for Norwegian men, but for others, including Baltic men.
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