For women’s economic empowerment we need more caring men

Grace Aciro with her family in Loigolo village in Alaa Parish, is located in the extreme north of Lamwo district in northern Uganda.
Photo: Julius Ceaser Kasujja/Oxfam

By Nina Ford
Originally posted on Oxfam’s Policy & Practice blog

While women are participating in the global labour market at higher rates than ever before, they continue to take on two to ten times more unpaid care work than men do worldwide.

Women’s unequal share of unpaid care work – necessary yet uncompensated childcare and housework – is a critical component of their economic inequality. It prevents women from participating equally in the labour market and affects the type, location, and nature of paid work they can take on.

Based on this reality, there is a growing international consensus that we cannot achieve women’s economic empowerment without also redistributing care work. And, to redistribute it, it’s time for a global push to get men and boys to take on an equal share.

Why should men and boys care? Apart from the fact that it is the right and just thing to do, if women were able to participate in the labour market at the same rates and pay as men do, their earnings would increase globally by up to 76%, closing a tremendous $17 trillion participation and wage gap. But this economic gap can’t be closed if the care gap isn’t also.

Strategies that help to reduce the total amount of unpaid care and redistribute responsibilities to wider society, such as programs and policies providing access to water and energy, education, healthcare, and childcare, are crucial. Here, we focus on actively redistributing unpaid care work between men and women. This is also necessary because when gender isn’t specifically addressed in these policies, women and girls continue to do a greater part of the care work that is left over.

Shifting how care is carried out requires not only transforming individual and community attitudes and behaviors, but also expanding programs and policies locally, nationally, and internationally to support this change.

Here are five ways we can start:

1. Show boys and girls that care is everyone’s responsibility.

Children learn ideas about gender and care from the earliest ages. When boys see their fathers engaged in caregiving or when they are taught to care for their siblings, they are more likely to continue this pattern of care as adults. And, when girls see their fathers participating equally in household chores, they are more likely to aspire to work outside the home in less traditional occupations.

At home, it is important for parents to model equitable caregiving behaviors for their children from early on. In schools and communities, programs like Roots of Empathy can also show children that everyone has the capacity to care.

2. Teach parents, especially fathers, to challenge caregiving stereotypes and to do the hands-on care.

In order to redistribute unpaid care work, men must understand that it is their responsibility – and they must feel capable of doing it. Evidence-based parent-training programs and educational campaigns for men, like MenCare’s Program P, can help fathers challenge outdated attitudes, learn gender-equitable parenting, and build their caregiving skills.

3. Engage men in health as a way to engage them in care.

When fathers are present from the beginning their children’s lives, including during their partners’ prenatal visits and at birth, they are more likely to stay involved as their children grow up. Health institutions and providers, however, may resist the idea of involving fathers in maternal, newborn, and child health.

Governments should increase training for those in the health sector on the importance of engaging men as supportive, equitable partners and parents. Practical changes to health facilities and practices – like providing after-work doctor’s appointments and private areas for labour and delivery – can also help make them more inclusive of men.

4. Offer equal, paid, non-transferable parental leave for fathers and mothers.

Providing equal, non-transferable, and paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers drives home the understanding that childcare is not a gendered responsibility. These policies can help to break the stereotype that men are family breadwinners and women are caregivers, creating opportunities for women’s labour force participation, career advancement, and economic opportunity.

5. Implement family-friendly policies for all employees.

Transforming the burden of unpaid care work requires policies and practices, on the part of both governments and employers, which support an equitable redistribution of care. Along with parental leave, this includes additional flexible working arrangements, adequate sick leave, and advance scheduling for all employees, regardless of gender. To work, such policies must be accompanied by a workplace culture that supports rather than stigmatizes individuals when they take leave for caregiving responsibilities.

When women are empowered economically, societies benefit. Greater economic opportunities for women lead to decreased poverty, better family nutrition and health, more equitable societies, and more prosperous economies.

Find out more in MenCare’s forthcoming Unpaid Care Platform.