Why men matter in closing the caregiving divide

Jane Kato-Wallace Gender, Women's Economic Empowerment

Jane Kato-Wallace, Senior Program Officer at Promundo-US, highlights the implications for organisations addressing the caregiving divide.

The unpaid care work divide represents an enduring aspect of gender inequality. But what do we mean by “unpaid care work”? According to the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, it consists of:

“Domestic work and direct care of persons carried out in homes and communities, with no financial payment.”

Paid work

The World Bank has found that in both low and upper-income settings the time women spend doing paid work is rising. However, the time men spend doing unpaid work has not risen at a commensurate rate. When women do manage to enter, or re-enter the workforce, they are more likely to have lower-paid or part-time job, to work in the informal sector, and to earn less than men do.

Unpaid care work and what can be done

The unequal distribution of care work is problematic in that it deeply impacts the lives of women and girls. It may seem obvious that men and boys should carry out more care work especially to the hundreds of millions of women and girls already shouldering the double burden of paid and unpaid work. What is seldom discussed is how to create the conditions necessary for men and boys to be part of a global effort to value care work, regardless of who carries it out.

Promising findings combined with over a decade of evidence on good practice finds that men can, do and want to change. The video below details just one example.

Watch the short film to see how the Global MenCare Campaign, co-coordinated by Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice helped changed one man’s attitudes to WEE.

What organizations can do

So what are the implications for organisations focused on closing the caregiving divide and increasing women’s economic empowerment? Here are some of our recommendations:

  • In order to go beyond recognising and valuing unpaid care work: test and implement “gender-transformative approaches” designed to challenge the social and gender norms that underpin the unequal distribution of unpaid care work in the first place.
  • Encourage men and boys to share their own experiences, motivations, and relationship challenges. Deep reflection often prompts the recognition of personal situations and gives participants the opportunity to develop solutions that work for them and their families.
  • Provide training for service providers across sectors that promotes reflection about their own gender biases around who does care work and why it is important, and that instructs them in how best to support the combination of unpaid care work and participation in paid work, whether it is a man or a woman doing it.
  • Use WE-CARE research data to pinpoint promising entry points to develop and test gender-transformative interventions that engage men as caregivers. Adding activities that involve men both in the form of group education and community-based campaign activism can be relatively easily combined with women’s economic empowerment activities. Check out Promundo’s Journeys of Transformation methodology and Program P (“P” for “pai” or “father” in Portuguese) for ideas on how to do this.
  • Start early! For example, efforts should be made to integrate reflections on harmful gender norms and roles within comprehensive sexuality education or “life skills” curricula in schools. At home, global research confirms that men who witnessed their fathers taking care of their siblings were more likely to do so when they themselves became fathers.
  • Engage partners together. This opens up unique opportunities for practising couple communication, discussing goals, and for men to listen to the voices of women – a rarity in many communities.
  • Develop or improve parenting programs so that both mothers and fathers are given the necessary knowledge and skills to care for children , and to de-stigmatise this work for men .
  • Guarantee dignified work and adequate pay to support an equitable work-life balance and financial stability for all caregivers and their children in global and national-level policies. This includes poverty-alleviation and social-welfare measures that; recognize the needs of caregivers. The policies must avoid reinforcing traditional gender roles, provide for basic needs and encourage men’s participation in family life and care work.

Ultimately, what Promundo and our partners envision is a world where men are doing 50% of the care work – a shift that would not only positively impact women and girls, but also men and boys. Men stand to gain a lot when they are no longer confined to rigid notions of what it means to be a man. When they are engaged as caregivers, pathways are opened up for them to express empathy and build more positive and emotional connections with their partners and children. It is a vision worth fighting for.

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This was originally posted on the Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agriculture Knowledge Hub


Rachel Hastie