There is 'no standard form of family': UN Women report

25 June 2019 - 17:21 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
New UN Women report puts a spotlight on inequality in families and rights of women and children.
New UN Women report puts a spotlight on inequality in families and rights of women and children.
Image: Ralph Orlowski/ Getty Images

A new UN Women report suggests that ensuring that families serve as a home for equality and justice is not only a moral imperative, but essential for the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The report titled "Progress of the World's Women 2019-2020: Families in a changing world" zooms in on how transformations in families affect women's rights.

According to the report, published on Tuesday, as women's rights have advanced over the years, families around the world have become a place of love and solidarity - "but also one where fundamental human rights violations and gender inequalities persist".

"Around the world, we are witnessing concerted efforts to deny women's agency and their right to make their own decisions in the name of protecting 'family values'. Yet, we know through research and evidence that there is no 'standard' form of family, nor has there ever been," said UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

"This report counters that pushback by showing that families, in all their diversity, can be critical drivers of gender equality, provided decision-makers deliver policies rooted in the reality of how people live today, with women's rights at their core," Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Based on global data, analysis and case studies, the report highlights the diversity of families around the world and provides "robust" recommendations to ensure that laws and policies support today's families and meet the needs of all their members, especially women and girls.

Among the trends noticed in the report is that the age of marriage has increased in all regions, while birth rates have declined, and women have increased economic autonomy; that globally, a little over one third (38%) of households are couples living with children; and extended families (including other relatives) are almost as common (27%).

"The vast majority of lone-parent families, which are 8% of households, are led by women, often juggling paid work, child-rearing and unpaid domestic work. Same-sex families are increasingly visible in all regions, the report observed.

"As the report shows, families can be places of care, but can also bring conflict, inequality and, far too often, violence.

"Today, 3-billion women and girls live in countries where rape within marriage is not explicitly criminalised. But injustice and violations take other forms as well."

In one out of five countries, notes the report, girls do not have the same inheritance rights as boys, while in others (a total of 19 countries) women are required by law to obey their husbands.

Around a third of married women in developing countries report having little or no say over their own healthcare, says the report.

"Women also continue to enter the labour market in large numbers, but marriage and motherhood reduce their labour-force participation rates, and the income and benefits that come with it."

On a positive note, the report found that parental leave is in place in most countries with an increase in intake by fathers, especially in countries where specific incentives, such as "daddy quotas", are in place that reserve a nontransferable portion of the leave for them on a "use it or lose it" basis.

"It also puts a spotlight on the challenges that women and their families face when they migrate. Unjust regulations mean that not all families have the right to family reunification and they are often excluded from access to public services. When women's migration status is tied to their partners, it can be difficult or impossible for them to escape violent relationships."

The report calls on policymakers, activists and society across the globe to transform families into places of equality and justice, where women can exercise choice and voice, and where they have physical safety and economic security.

The report recommends:

  • Amending and reforming family laws to ensure that women can choose whether, when and whom to marry; that provide the possibility of divorce if needed; and enable women's access to family resources.
  • Recognising diverse partnership forms, to protect women's rights in both cohabiting and same-sex partnerships.
  • Investing in public services, especially education and reproductive healthcare, so that women's and girls' life choices are expanded, and they can make informed choices about sex and childbearing.
  • Paid parental leave, and state support for the care of children and older persons, must be considered in crafting comprehensive social protection systems that can help to sustain families.
  • Ensuring women's physical safety by implementing laws and policies to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and providing access to justice and support services for survivors of violence.

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