01 October 2019

Families in a Changing World: Policies to Promote Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Families can be a “make or break” for women and girls.

The panel discussion on Families in a Changing World: Policies to Promote Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women was organised by the Gender Centre and UN Women with support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).

UN Women’s new flagship report, Progress of the world’s women 2019–2020: Families in a changing world emphasises that families can be a “make or break” for women and girls. Shahra Razavi (UN Women) highlighted several positive trends indicating that women are increasingly able to exercise agency and voice within the family, enabled by supportive laws and policies. However, much remains to be done, as women’s economic security is not guaranteed and, in many cases, families are a place of violence, with one in five women having experienced intimate partner violence in the previous 12 months. She highlighted the need for family friendly policies to provide a level playing field through accessible public services and family laws based on diversity, equality and non-discrimination.

According to Ruth Halperin-Kaddari (Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, Bar-Ilan University Law Faculty, Israel, and former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women - CEDAW), CEDAW contributed to recognising family law as an international human rights issue. Yet the development of the rights of fathers can have a negative impact for mothers, in particular for victims of domestic violence who may be accused of alienating their children from their fathers, with consequences in terms of custody rights. Family law needs to address this issue.

Yakin Ertürk (Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey, and former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women) stated that historically, families have always been manipulated to accomplish political objectives. States’ exercise of power over the family is not a monopoly, but happens in competing power blocks within the society, including dominant religions and market forces. The international community can play a major role in promoting gender equality, in addition to national policy-makers, referring to the example of Sweden’s feminist foreign policy.

Addressing the challenges facing rainbow families, Matcha Phorn-in (Sangsan Anakot Yaowachon, Thailand) underlined that globally, only 13 % of states recognise same-sex marriage and only 15 % allow for joint adoption for same-sex couples. Patriarchal constructions of the idea of the family and gender roles reproduce violence and discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Advocacy efforts need to address this discrimination and to empower LGBTQI+ communities.

Stressing that persisting gender inequalities within households and within the labour market are closely linked, Umberto Cattaneo (Gender diversity and equality branch, International Labour Organization) emphasised that public and private investments in care services are critical in order to ensure gender equality within the family. According to  the International Labour Organization (ILO)'s assessment in Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work, investments in the care economy have the potential of creating jobs as well as generating an increase in revenues.

During the discussion, Yakin Ertürk highlighted the risk of regression in terms of language and policies given the political climate in many influential countries. It also appears that collective demands are decreasing, in particular in the North, with the false belief that women in the North are fully emancipated. With the upcoming 25-year anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action, a review of progress at national, regional and global levels is being carried out by UN Women.