To close gap in unpaid care work, a new call to action asks men to do more

Gideon Abossey holds his daughter after giving her a bath in Ghana. Photo by: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Against a backdrop of lagging progress on equalizing unpaid care work, Brazilian-based NGO Promundo is asking men to do more — 50 minutes more, to be exact.

Men would need to contribute an additional 50 minutes every day to caring for children and households — and women 50 minutes less — to make a leap toward achieving gender equality in unpaid care, reveals the third edition of the “State of the World’s Fathers” report, released Wednesday by Promundo.

“We're not asking for men to do favors for women.”

— Natalia Kanem, executive director, United Nations Population Fund

Globally, women spend significantly more time than men — sometimes up to 10 times as much — on unpaid care and domestic work, according to the report. And across 23 middle- and high-income countries, the gap in unpaid care has closed by just seven minutes over the past several decades, the report said.

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“In much of the global south, there’s been a lot of conversation about reducing the burden on women with things like more efficient cookstoves and infrastructure, but I think there’s a belief that [unpaid care] is so entrenched that we can’t change men’s attitudes about it,” Gary Barker, president and CEO of Promundo, told Devex at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver.

Barker, who founded Promundo more than 20 years ago, wants to challenge that perception by showing that balancing work in the home remains a powerful tool for equality if properly championed and taken up by governments and individuals alike.

Changing norms and policies for men

But progress toward men assuming 50% of care work in the home is hampered by multiple entrenched barriers, including the lack of adequate, paid paternity leave and restrictive gender norms that position care as women’s responsibility. These are compounded with further hurdles — including men’s low uptake of leave when it is available and the perception of women as more competent caregivers than men, findings of research conducted in partnership with Unilever, Dove Men+Care in seven countries, and Plan International Canada in four countries, according to Promundo senior researcher Brian Heilman.

Heilman has witnessed a slow uptick in the number of parental leave policies adopted globally since he began his research for Promundo several years ago. But he cautions — and the report makes clear — that policy is just one piece of the puzzle. Even the call for 50 more minutes of care work from men, drawn from global data available from the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation about daily time that women and men currently spend on care work, is just one starting point, Heilman said.

The report stresses a combination of interventions from the government, private sector, and within the home that will drive progress.

Promundo recommends reaching men via the health sector, workplace, and early childhood sector. Father-inclusive parent training, particularly recruiting men via prenatal visits, is one promising intervention the NGO is currently exploring in about 10 countries, Barker shared. In 16 sessions, men learn basic skills on caring for a young child, positive nonviolent child rearing, and better couple negotiation. An early study of the intervention in Rwanda showed 40% less violence by men in the intervention group, as well as men doing at least 50 minutes more of hands-on care work each day as a result, Barker said.

Experts believe there are many creative ways to engage men in care work. United Nations Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem pointed to Husbands’ Schools, an innovative strategy for engaging men in the conversation about maternal health and healthy child spacing in rural Niger as one example, as well as fathers who have led the charge to end the practice of female genital mutilation in their communities.

“I believe that men are definitely part of the solution and that there's a self-interest that they need to be educated about in terms of the benefits that they're going to have from a fully gender equal society,” Kanem said, speaking to Devex on the sidelines of Women Deliver.

“We're not asking for men to do favors for women. You should be an equal partner in housework at home. We expect you to be an advocate for girls’ education … I think the principles should be really clear that full gender equality is to the benefit of everybody.”

And shared caregiving is good for men, according to the report, which details that men benefit with improved physical, mental, and sexual health and reduced risk-taking. Greater involvement by men in daily care work “leads to better relationships within couples and can be linked with a reduction in rates of men’s violence against women,” the report says.

“We know how expensive and time consuming it is to change man by man, or one father’s group or one men's group or one community project at a time. So we’re really trying to say: ‘Where are those big sectors? Where around men can we find ways that we can both change the norms and change the policies around them?’” Barker said.

About the author

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.