This Father’s Day, I want to spotlight the important role fathers play in achieving gender equality.
There are many facets to this role but today I will highlight just one: the importance of sharing unpaid care work.
Unpaid care work occurs outside paying jobs, such as cleaning, cooking and caring for children, elders or sick family members. This is considered work because one could pay a third party to do it. Yet, the individuals doing this critical labour are not paid for their efforts or time.
The latest State of the World’s Fathers report, released by Plan International Canada’s partner, Promundo, explores unpaid care work and how to address it. As shown in the report, women and girls do three to ten times more unpaid care and domestic work than men.
This imbalance affects women’s well-being, health and careers, limiting their opportunities to participate in the labour market. Beyond the individual impact, studies show that economies benefit from having more women in the paid workforce.
Unpaid care work also affects girls and their education in particular. Many families around the world value their daughters’ contributions to their homes over their schooling, fueled by gender norms and stereotypes around girls’ and women’s roles as caregivers.
There are many actions we must take to address these harmful gender norms and inequalities. These include the partnership of men and boys.
COVID-19 exacerbating the unpaid care work of women and girls
Since the onset of the pandemic, women have left the workforce in droves, sacrificing their careers to care for children who are home due to school closures, or to care for sick or elderly relatives. There are also increased needs for cooking and cleaning, with families at home during the pandemic.
With schools closed, many girls are also doing more domestic work, leaving little time to study. The risks of girls not returning to school are growing. The reasons for this vary, but household and care responsibilities are major contributing factors.
A setback to girls’ education is a setback to their futures — impacting the girls individually, as well as their families, communities, and beyond.
Given the inequalities in unpaid care work that existed before the pandemic, and how they have worsened during it, we need to take action.
Promundo makes several recommendations in its report and I’d like to highlight two of them.
1. Address the barriers preventing men’s engagement in the health care of their families, particularly during pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care.
The report outlines the role health sector leaders have in removing barriers preventing men from engaging in the reproductive health and rights continuum. This issue is also entrenched within communities and homes. In many communities, men and women do not consider it the husband’s or partner’s responsibility to take an active role in the health of their wife/spouse or children. Addressing the root causes of this at both ends of the spectrum is important for men’s participation and for their families and communities to accept it.
2. Change perceptions of men as caregivers and their role within unpaid care work.
Fathers particularly, and men broadly, have a profound influence on gender equitable attitudes and behaviours. Boys learn from seeing men do care work and girls grow up learning that care work is not exclusively their social role. We need a cultural shift towards valuing care work among men and more men and boys taking on this work within their homes.
I encourage you to consider these two recommendations, and read the others outlined in the report.
A call-to-action for men and boys
According to the State of the World’s Fathers report, surveys in 47 countries affirm that as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, men have been carrying out more hands-on care work than any time in recent history. No doubt, they have come to also experience the fulfillment that comes with caring for others.
This is something we want to continue post-pandemic as a norm. Much more is needed, given the immense inequality that existed pre-pandemic and has worsened since.
Fathers bear equal responsibility for the care of their homes and families, yet women and girls continue to carry the bulk of it. This can’t continue.
I am calling on more men and boys to take on unpaid care work equally and to join the men and boys already working with women and girls in all their diversity to create a more just world.