News ID: 192874
Published: 0932 GMT May 16, 2017

Families can drive gender equality

Families can drive gender equality

The concept of family lends itself to exaggerated claims. Depending on who you talk to, the decline of the traditional family in recent decades either means the triumph of individualism and the onset of 'pure relationships' or the dissolution of society, population decline and the death of the nation.

For women, in particular, families have long been deeply paradoxical spaces. They can bring love and life but also struggle, inequality and, far too often, violence, wrote.

In 2012, 47 percent of all women who were victims of homicide were killed by a family member, versus just six percent of men, according to the United Nations' Global Study on Homicide.

Evidence also shows that family income and resources are not necessarily pooled or shared equally between couples, practices that can entrench domestic gender inequality. Men in both the developed and developing world are also more likely than women to use family income for personal spending and to have more leisure time.

How can we make families work better for women?

International Day of Families is a good moment to reflect on this question and consider how families might change to become agents of gender equality and female empowerment.

In international law, the protection of the family is closely linked to the principle of equality and non-discrimination, meaning that all members of a family must enjoy the same liberties and rights regardless of gender or age.

As social realities change, perceptions of just what non-discrimination looks like have also evolved.

To help families become more gender equal, it is important to be clear about what changes are required and what, concretely, these changes entail. Only doing this will allow policies seeking to empower women and girls really work.

Things are already trending in the right direction. Around the globe, women's voice and agency within the family are growing. In many parts of the world, women are also postponing marriage, in part because they are attending school for longer and building a career.

In the Middle East and North Africa, regions where marriages have tended to be early and universal, women delayed marriage for between three and six years (depending on the country) between the 1980s and 2010s. By 2010, the mean marrying age for the region's women ranged from 22 to 29 years and in nearly all countries it now surpasses the legal minimum age of marriage without parental consent.

Delaying marriage has gone hand in hand with improved health outcomes for women and their children in the region, as well as significant gains in female higher education.

Worldwide, women are also increasingly their family's breadwinner, a trend that is whittling away at the pillars of patriarchy and improving family financial security.

In the US, for example, real wages have been falling since the mid-1970s even as productivity has been rising. In this context, what has kept families afloat is the increased participation of women in the work force. Today, women's participation rate in the labor force is 57 percent, up from 38 percent in 1960.

There is a harsher flipside to female economic power: As women around the world assume both primary financial and care responsibilities for their children, they are increasingly doing so in the absence of men.

Evolving family structures do not present an inherent risk to society. The real danger lies in long hours of poorly paid work that leaves little time for family life; households torn apart by conflict, forced migration and deportation; and perverse economic incentives that compel people to 'choose' between home and a career.

If governments embrace change and prove willing and able to support new and different household arrangements, then modern families can become engines of empowerment. We just have to try.

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