While many men are becoming more engaged as fathers and hands-on caregiving partners, in 23 middle- and high-income countries, the unpaid care gap between men and women has decreased by only seven minutes a day across a 15 year time span.
Seven minutes’ change in 15 years.
Fewer than half of the world’s countries offer paid paternity leave on the birth of a child, and often this is less than three weeks – or sometimes only a few days.
Even when paternity leave exists, too few fathers take leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
Worldwide, there remains a widespread expectation that caring is women’s work, and men’s role as breadwinners should largely exempt them from any household chores or work that includes providing care.
Drawing on data from 23 countries across the world, significant proportions of both men and women agree that “changing diapers, giving baths to children, and feeding children should be the mother’s/woman’s responsibility.”
These are a few of the findings in the 2019 State of the World’s Fathers report, the third globally recognised, biennial report produced by Promundo, an advocacy platform aiming to change power structures, policies, and social norms around caring in order to achieve family well-being, gender equality, and better health for mothers, fathers, and children.
The 2019 report reveals new research on men’s caregiving from 11 countries, with additional cross-country analysis of data from over 30 countries.
The report aligns with MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign movement led by Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice, active in 50 countries on five continents, to promote men’s and boys’ involvement as equitable, nonviolent caregivers.
Their goal is significant: they are calling for nothing less than full equality between women and men, in the workplace and in the home.
“This third edition of State of the World’s Fathers aims to do nothing less than change the world by calling on societies, legislators, corporations, media, social institutions, families, caregivers – and, ultimately, men and fathers – to unlock the power of care and to ensure that men step up to do 50 percent of the unpaid care work in the home.”
The report is rooted firmly around the belief that unpaid childcare and domestic work must be valued as much as paid work, and shared equally between men and women.
To reach 50 percent of the unpaid care work, time use data analysis finds that men would need to increase their time spent by a minimum of 50 minutes a day.
This report is urging governments, employers, and individuals around the world to take action to promote gender equality by supporting men to do their fair share of the unpaid care work by 2030.
The good news is that 85% of fathers covered in the data said that 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.
So what’s getting in the way?
The three major obstacles identified are:
- The lack of adequate, paid paternity leave, and low take-up of leave when it is available;
- Restrictive gender norms that position care as women’s responsibility, alongside the perception of women as more competent caregivers than men; and
- A lack of economic security and government support for all parents and caregivers.
The report also found:
• Over 65% of women say mothers would have better physical health, and over 72 percent say they would have better mental health, if fathers took at least two weeks paternity leave.
• Up to 76% of mothers (UK) and 59 percent of fathers (Canada) from the seven middle- and high-income countries surveyed rate financial barriers as the greatest reason for not taking more parental leave.
• 48% of countries offer paid paternity leave on the birth of a child, and often this is less than three weeks – or sometimes only a few days. But even when paternity leave exists, few fathers take leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
What needs to change?
The 2019 SOWF highlights five key areas that need to change in order to achieve gender-equal caregiving and parenting.
Improve laws and policies
Sweeping changes are needed in the legal realities and the policy environment that shape women’s and men’s opportunities and choices, as well as children’s lives. This focuses on parental leave policies in particular, but it also refers to other high-level changes to advance equality in unpaid care work in terms of constitutional protections and provisions, as well as in terms of social protection, affordable, quality public childcare, and the collection of data and statistics.
Transform social and gender norms
This focuses on “changing hearts and minds” specifically social and gender norms – the ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, a mother or a father, what is skilled and valuable work, and all of the ways in which these social expectations can support or create barriers to equality in unpaid care work.
Build the economic and physical security of families
Relatively few families worldwide are able to make decisions about caregiving without economic constraints or physical safety concerns, and this key bring particular focus to how experiences of conflict and displacement influence unpaid care.
Help couples and co-parents thrive together
This refers to men’s relationships with their intimate partners and co-parents, which are most often women but include households of all sexual orientations and gender identities. It is essential to understand the diversity of caregiving relationships and to elevate the voices and demands of women, paying attention to what women are calling for in terms of fathers’ care work.
Put individual fathers’ care into action
It is ultimately the individual father who either does or doesn’t step up into a more equal caregiving role.
The report observes that it “takes a village,” or a whole society, to unlock the power of men’s care. To achieve change all five of the keys identified need to be addressed, simultaneously and urgently, for as long as it takes.
“Men are shaped by the world around them, and they have an individual responsibility for achieving equality. We are not merely calling on fathers to make small gestures toward this equality, and this is not about celebrating a few things that men should already be doing. We are after full equality, full stop. We must also change the world around individuals to believe that care matters, that it must be equal, and that it is as important as anything else we do.”