By Gary Barker*
Women’s participation in the labor force continues to grow in Latin America and the Caribbean. Indeed, that growth is one of the reasons the region is now – with all its inequalities – middle income. There are five women heads of State, and women are increasingly visible in public and private sector leadership. Women are roughly as likely to be in university as men in the region. And yet, glaring gender inequalities persist: As of 2010, 46% of working-age women in Latin America and the Caribbean were in the paid workforce, compared to 76% of men.
What keeps women from achieving their full economic potential? One key reason is unpaid care and domestic work. Across the region, women carry out more than two times the amount of care work that men do. To give an example, national household data from Brazil found that the time women spent in unpaid care and domestic work decreased slightly from 2001 to 2011, from 24 hours per week to 22 hours (on top of their work outside the home). And men’s time spent in care and domestic work? It increased from an average of 10 hours per week to a whopping 10 hours and 8 minutes.
The unequal care burden keeps women out of the workforce, and it reinforces the idea that care work is women’s and girls’ work while men’s work is all the important things they do outside the home.
Slowly, though, a revolution is happening – some men are doing more of the care work and some countries are taking men’s involvement in care work seriously. In Chile, the government’s early childhood program, Chile crece contigo, promotes fathers’ involvement in pre-natal visits, childbirth and children’s development. Brazil’s Ministry of Health created a Men’s Health Department that carries out trainings for expectant fathers in how to be involved, equitable and non-violent co-parents. Across the region, NGOs and governments are signing on to MenCare, a global campaign to promote men’s involvement as equitable, involved caregivers.
The secret to promoting men’s greater involvement in care work is to highlight the benefits it brings for all. Data from IMAGES and other studies finds that men’s caregiving contributes to reducing family violence. Research finds that girls raised in households with more equitable caregiving are less likely to experience unwanted sex. Men who have closer relationships with their children contribute more of their income to their households, so their children are less likely to grow up poor. Women are more likely to report safe and calm birthing processes, to breastfeed and to seek prenatal care when their partners are more involved in birth and pregnancy.
Studies from Sweden and the US find that men who report close connections to their children live longer, have fewer mental health problems, are less likely to abuse drugs, are more productive at work and report being happier than men who are not connected to their children.
Neither men nor women are rushing to do more household chores. But when it comes to the care of children, the evidence is growing that women, children and men themselves benefit when men do more of it. It’s time to take Father’s Day out of the greeting cards and the T-shirts and make it a true cause for men, for gender equality and for reducing poverty in the region.
*Gary Barker, PhD, is International Director and founder of Promundo, an international NGO that works to promote gender justice. He is also coordinator of the multi-country survey on men IMAGES, and co-founder of MenCare, a global campaign to promote men’s involvement as equitable, non-violent caregivers.