“I would use that time to think about life.” – Mother, Nigeria
It will be no surprise to members of the Women Deliver community that women are still doing the vast majority of care work globally. These acts of care, everything from feeding and bathing children to coordinating healthcare visits to meeting the needs of unwell or elderly family members (and everything in between), are vital to human well-being. Strict gender roles and societal expectations, however, mean that a large proportion of our families and communities – we’re looking at you, men! – aren’t contributing their equal share.
It is this fundamental injustice that motivates Promundo and our partners from the global MenCare campaign to continue to publish the State of the World’s Fathers every two years. We were thrilled to launch the 2019 report, which includes new research on men’s caregiving from 11 countries, with additional cross-country analysis of data from over 30 countries, at this year’s Women Deliver Conference.
The report’s message is anchored in the reality that globally, women spend significantly more time than men – sometimes up to ten times as much – on unpaid care, volunteer, and domestic work. Women also do more paid and unpaid work combined on a daily basis, in every region where data are available. These disparities lie at the heart of gender inequality, and it’s holding women, families, communities, and countries back. We can and must change this.
To understand how and why it’s important to achieve equality in care work, it is essential to listen to women around the world. Women in the new report by and large agree with the call for equality in care work: across the seven countries where we undertook new data collection, over 65 percent of women say that mothers would have better physical health, and over 72 percent say mothers would have better mental health, if fathers took at least two weeks’ paternity leave at the birth of a new child. When our colleagues from Plan International Canada asked women in Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, and Nigeria what they’d do if they had an extra two hours every day as a result of greater sharing in care and domestic work, the most consistent response was that they’d rest, relax, and sleep. As a mother in Bangladesh said, “My husband gives time to the children, so I can get some free time.”
These insights underscore a simple but powerful headline: rest, relaxation, naptime, and thinking about life are women’s rights. Even as we recognize that care and domestic work are rewarding and essential elements of family well-being, it is clear that these rights are being consistently denied to women due to inequalities in who undertakes this work.
So what can we do to right the balance of care work, and better guarantee these and other rights? The State of the World’s Fathers 2019 report takes a structural perspective to the issue, resisting the temptation to identify any single or overly simplistic root cause or silver bullet solution. Instead, we point to opportunities and ways forward across five levels of society. We must:
- Improve laws and policies as they relate to health and education, to childcare, social protection, parental leave, and to national budget decisions, to make equality in care work a priority.
- Transform social and gender norms to unravel the restrictive idea that women are default caregivers and men are exempt from these responsibilities.
- Guarantee economic and physical security for the most vulnerable families, recognizing that the constraints and opportunities to share care work are not identical in all contexts.
- Help couples and co-parents thrive together, elevating women’s voices, priorities, and needs and advancing shared decision-making, ensuring safety from violence, and achieving a balance of power.
- Put individual fathers’ care into action, because so many fathers are ready to step up as equal caregivers or learn how to be. Eighty-five percent of fathers in seven countries in our study say they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their newly born or adopted child, for example.
The barriers to equal care are all around us, rooted in capitalism, colonialism, conflict, discrimination, wealth inequality, and our legislative and social environments. As we continue to push our legislators and corporate leaders to implement the necessary structural changes, we all have a role to play as individual caregivers as well.
As a concrete initial goal for individual caregivers and families, we can all aim for this: 50 more minutes for men, 50 fewer minutes for women every day. Time use data suggests that, as a cursory global aggregate, men would need to increase their time spent by at least 50 minutes a day, with women receiving 50 minutes more of free time, naptime, and thinking about life, as a result. As a start, it can be as simple as that. How can you adjust 50 minutes in your life toward equality today?