At the recently concluded Generation Equality Forum in Paris, some attention was devoted to the role of men in creating a gender equal world. After all, there’s no denying that gender justice isn’t just the responsibility of women alone. Nor can there be a gender equal world without the participation of men. Plus, gender equality should never be seen as something favouring women at the expense of men. For, in a gender equal world everyone wins, including men. Research has shown that when women are empowered financially and socially, they are able to provide better for their families, including male members.
In this respect, one key change that needs to be ushered in is gender equal care work. The unpaid care burden on women across the world is a huge inhibitor to their workplace participation and adoption of leadership roles. And this burden has only increased after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic with lockdowns forcing people indoors. Promundo, a global leader in engaging men and boys in advancing gender equality, recently released its State Of The World’s Fathers 2021 report highlighting the gender inequality in care work and suggesting seven actions to mitigate this.
Globally, women do three to ten times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. In fact, the report states, at the current rate of change it will take 92 years to achieve parity in unpaid care work between women and men. Interestingly though, men have been doing more unpaid care work during the pandemic. According to the report, surveys with women and men in 47 countries show that men have been carrying out more hands-on care work after the outbreak of Covid than any time in recent history. However, the gender care gap still remains. This is exemplified by the fact that among women with children in 16 countries the average increase in time spent per week on childcare during Covid is 5.2 hours, while for men the average increase is 3.5 hours. This means that even if men are taking on more care work, the women’s care burden has only increased further.
Add to this the pandemic-induced stresses that are disproportionately affecting women. There has been a perceptible increase in gender based violence against women, while the ratio of women out of work due to Covid compared to men is 1.8:1—based on a sample of 55 countries at the end of Q2 in 2020. Therefore, the Promundo report clearly underlines the need to mitigate the gender care gap to not only create a more fair, caring world and eliminate toxic masculinity, but also to give women and girls a fair shot at economic empowerment in the post-Covid world. In fact, Covid has provided an opportunity to make a break with the past and accelerate men’s participation in care work with the aim of ushering in gender equality in care and domestic duties.
Towards this end, the seven actions suggested by Promundo are putting in place national care policies that redistribute care work equally between men and women; providing equal fully paid parental leave for all parents; designing and expanding social protection programmes to redistribute care work equally between women and men while focussing on the needs and rights of women and girls; transforming health sector institutions to promote fathers’ involvement from the prenatal period through birth and childhood and men’s involvement as caregivers; promoting an ethic of male care in schools, media and other institutions; changing workplace conditions to support workers’ caregiving; and holding male politicians accountable for their support of care policies while advocating for women’s equality in political leadership.
These are all very sound ideas, but the two that should be pursued immediately in the Indian context are paid paternity leave in addition to existing paid maternity leave benefits, and working with schools to create appropriate curriculum to reflect male care work. Paid paternity leave, mandated through a national legislation, is crucial to promote childcare among men and reduce the burden on women. In fact, paid paternity leave has the double benefit of enabling women to rejoin paid work quicker after becoming mothers, while enabling fathers to form strong bonds with their children in the early years. The latter, research has shown, is hugely beneficial for the physical and emotional development of children.
Meanwhile, remodelling school education to reflect male care work is crucial to changing the narrative about caregiving which continues to be seen predominantly as women’s domain. Therefore, school textbooks need to depict male caregivers prominently to counter the stereotypes.
The Generation Equality Forum highlighting the need for gender equal care work comes at a crucial time when Covid has exacerbated existing gender inequalities. Governments and civil societies must take note of the suggested reforms and push for their implementation to create a better post-Covid world.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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