FAM­ILY IS THE CRUX

Qatar Today - - DEVELOPMENT > TAG THIS - BY ANEY MATHEW

“Hu­man­ity at the mo­ment greatly needs com­pre­hen­sive global, na­tional poli­cies and pro­grammes that are geared to­wards fam­ily is­sues, as an in­te­grated so­cial sys­tem with­out frag­ment­ing so­lu­tions. We be­hold the is­sues of men, women, youth and the child as a sin­gle is­sue: which is the is­sue of fam­ily with its own ar­ray of chal­lenges and prob­lems,” de­clared HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chair­per­son of Qatar Foun­da­tion for Ed­u­ca­tion, Sci­ence and Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment as she gave the open­ing ad­dress at the Doha In­ter­na­tional Fam­ily In­sti­tute's In­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence “Em­pow­er­ing fam­i­lies: A Path­way to Devel­op­ment”. HH Sheikha Moza called on the world to do more for fam­ily em­pow­er­ment.

Stat­ing that the fam­ily is the nu­cleus and unit of so­ci­ety and also the ed­u­ca­tional womb of generations, she pointed out that if the fam­ily is good, so­ci­ety will be right­eous, and if it is dis­in­te­grated, so­ci­ety will be in­co­her­ent.

HH Sheikha Moza also re­ferred to the is­sues faced by the Arab fam­ily in an era when their iden­tity, cul­ture and fu­ture are threat­ened.

At a re­cently held con­fer­ence on em­pow­er­ing fam­i­lies in an ever-chang­ing glob­alised world that has caused dis­rup­tion in value sys­tems, the con­sen­sus was that agen­cies, both govern­ment and pri­vate, should keep the fam­ily at the cen­tre of all poli­cies.

“The cul­tural in­va­sion that has swept the world through the flood of glob­al­i­sa­tion in the last two decades has ac­tu­ally shaken the Arab man, cre­ated a dis­rup­tion in the sys­tem of val­ues, di­min­ished the iden­tity and cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics, lead­ing to the de­cline of val­ues which led to slow­ness in terms of an­tic­i­pat­ing and ad­dress­ing chal­lenges. Cul­tural in­va­sion has tar­geted the core of the iden­tity of the Arab fam­ily: its cul­ture, lan­guage and re­li­gion. The me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment cul­ture has played the most in­flu­en­tial role in car­ry­ing the terms and con­se­quences of this in­va­sion, which has af­fected many of the Arab youth.”

The Doha In­ter­na­tional Fam­ily In­sti­tute (DIFI), a mem­ber of Qatar Foun­da­tion, or­gan­ised a con­fer­ence last month. The event was con­ducted as part of the com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 20th an­niver­sary of the In­ter­na­tional Year of the Fam­ily (IYF). Held un­der the pa­tron­age of HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, this was DIFI's largest ever con­fer­ence fo­cus­ing on the fam­ily.

“The main ob­jec­tive of this con­fer­ence is to fo­cus on the mount­ing ev­i­dence that links em­pow­er­ing fam­i­lies and the achieve­ment of de­vel­op­men­tal goals. The con­fer­ence will ex­plore how fam­i­lies can be strength­ened and sup­ported to ful­fil

their nu­mer­ous func­tions and will call on gov­ern­ments to take ac­tion at the na­tional level to im­prove wel­fare of fam­i­lies and in­te­grate a fam­ily pol­icy into na­tional pol­icy mak­ing”, said Noor Al Malki Al Je­hani, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor, DIFI, out­lin­ing the aim of the con­fer­ence.

The event was framed around the ba­sic con­cept that the fam­ily is the ‘fun­da­men­tal unit of so­ci­ety' and hence needs to be pro­tected and nur­tured. The fo­cus was on is­sues con­fronting fam­ily poverty, pro­mot­ing full em­ploy­ment, fam­ily-work bal­ance and ad­vanc­ing so­cial in­te­gra­tion through the lens of a fam­ily per­spec­tive.

Over the last 50 years, women's par­tic­i­pa­tion in paid em­ploy­ment out­side the home has been in­creas­ing con­sis­tently and sig­nif­i­cantly in al­most all coun­tries. More and more to­day, we see both par­ents em­ployed out­side the home. The num­ber of sin­gle-par­ent, fe­male-headed house­holds is also grow­ing. The fact re­mains that, de­spite women's in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion in the labour mar­ket, their share of fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, has not di­min­ished.

Nei­ther so­cial poli­cies and ser­vices to sup­port fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties nor work­place poli­cies to sup­port work-fam­ily bal­ance, have kept pace with the changes in labour mar­kets or fam­i­lies. In the ab­sence of ad­e­quate poli­cies, the cur­rent trends lead to con­sid­er­able con­flicts and stress for em­ploy­ees and their fam­i­lies. Peo­ple re­spond to this stress with ‘in­di­vid­ual cop­ing strate­gies', which of­ten come at a high cost.

Most coun­tries have im­ple­mented some poli­cies aimed at sup­port­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of work and fam­ily life, but their type, cov­er­age and ef­fec­tive­ness vary. The ses­sion on ‘Full Em­ploy­ment: En­sur­ing Work -Fam­ily Bal­ance' dis­cussed how to de­sign ef­fec­tive poli­cies and some good prac­tices needed to en­sure a good fam­ily-work bal­ance.

What’s with the bal­ance?

Dis­cussing the mil­lion dol­lar work-fam­ily bal­ance is­sue, Min­istry for Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment, So­cial Af­fairs & Sports, Sey­chelles, HE Vin­cent Meri­ton, says, “Once you eman­ci­pate the girl, it's just not for the sake of eman­ci­pa­tion; there has to be log­i­cal con­clu­sion. She needs to go into pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and work. Then she will as­pire to a higher po­si­tion and if the hus­band is also work­ing there will be a void in the fam­ily. Since we live at a time when ex­tended fam­i­lies are de­creas­ing, the void re­mains. This is where the com­mu­nity comes in – to pro­vide good qual­ity child­care ser­vices that com­ple­ment the fam­ily.”

He also notes that the na­tional devel­op­ment ap­proach must be such that the fam­ily is the cen­tre of all poli­cies – ed­u­ca­tional, en­vi­ron­ment, so­cial etc: “It is im­por­tant that all agen­cies – gov­ern­ments, pri­vate firms and NGOs work in tan­dem to achieve this goal. With­out this, we will all be do­ing our own small thing, in our own de­part­ments, our own king­doms and our own em­pires,” he says.

Anne Claire, Pres­i­dent, Make Moth­ers

Mat­ter In­ter­na­tional, UN Gen­eral Con­sul­ta­tive Sta­tus was of the opin­ion that fam­i­lies can achieve a fam­ily-work bal­ance, keep­ing in mind the choices avail­able and the fact that the time avail­able to raise their chil­dren is not that long, com­pared to the time put into a pro­fes­sional life.

Her so­lu­tion was for a “dis­con­tin­u­ous pro­fes­sional life – get­ting out of the labour mar­ket to as­sume fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and re-en­ter­ing it later, when chil­dren are more in­de­pen­dent”. But this will re­quire a strong con­vic­tion that fam­ily work is real work and a real con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety, she stresses.

Claire also stresses healthy op­tions, “good qual­ity day care, which makes sure that chil­dren do not suf­fer be­cause of their par­ents' choice or their ne­ces­sity to work”. The ideal sit­u­a­tion would be when com­pa­nies in­vest in day­care, at­tract­ing young tal­ents who want a bet­ter fam­ily-work bal­ance.

Qual­ity part-time jobs, that are not con­sid­ered pro­fes­sional dead ends, are also good op­tions for par­ents who want to re­tain a pro­fes­sional life whilst hav­ing time for the chil­dren. “Flex­i­bil­ity in the work­place is also a big help for moth­ers and fa­thers,” she says.

She adds, “It is im­por­tant for gov­ern­ments not to im­pose their agen­das on fam­i­lies but rather pro­vide them with a di­ver­sity of mea­sures to make good choices, as in the case of ma­ter­nity and pa­ter­nity leave, tax de­duc­tions for fam­i­lies, qual­ity day-care cen­tres, pen­sions-care cred­its for those tak­ing ca­reer breaks for fam­ily rea­sons, and mak­ing com­pa­nies ac­count­able for re­spect­ing em­ploy­ment leg­is­la­tion.”

An­other rev­o­lu­tion­ary but en­tirely log­i­cal in­put was given by Pro­fes­sor Mar­garet O'Brien, Direc­tor, Thomas Co­ram Re­search Unit, In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion, Univer­sity Of Lon­don. She says that de­ci­sion and pol­icy mak­ers must be en­cour­aged to fit fa­thers into work-fam­ily poli­cies. “Fa­thers have not been cen­tral to work-fam­ily de­lib­er­a­tions. Fa­thers' and men's roles in fam­i­lies have been ris­ing on the world stage. There's now a global ad­vo­cacy to sup­port men as care-givers in fam­i­lies,” she says.

While ma­ter­nal leave is in place, there is no in­ter­na­tional man­date for pa­ter­nity leave. How­ever, some coun­tries take this ap­proach se­ri­ously: they of­fer more leave to the fam­ily if the fa­ther takes leave. Others have non-trans­fer­able ‘ daddy leave' that can­not be taken by the mother. These mea­sures en­cour­age fa­thers to take time off, or to work re­duced hours to take care of their fam­ily.

Ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Nuria Chin­chilla, Founder & Pres­i­dent, In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre on Work & Fam­ily, IESE, Univer­sity of Navarra, Spain, the three Fs for a sus­tain­able fu­ture are: fam­ily, fem­i­nin­ity and flex­i­bil­ity.

“As we know, fam­ily is vi­tal – no man is an is­land. We are all mem­bers of a fam­ily. As for fem­i­nin­ity, for too long we have looked with one eye open – the lens of mas­culin­ity. This meant only half of re­al­ity was ev­i­dent. Since men and women are com­ple­men­tary, we need to look with both lenses for clear vi­sion,” she says.

Chin­chilla says that com­pa­nies need to be flex­i­ble and fam­ily-re­spon­si­ble. “We of­ten hear of CSR, but within that is the Cor­po­rate Fam­ily Re­spon­si­bil­ity, which is the com­mit­ment of com­pa­nies to pro­mote, among others, con­cil­i­a­tion poli­cies to in­te­grate the work, fam­ily and the per­sonal lives of their em­ploy­ees. Work and fam­ily are both re­al­i­ties where we de­velop our­selves. So we need to in­te­grate both in one line of life,” says Chin­chilla.

Fam­i­lies can them­selves try to achieve a bet­ter work-fam­ily bal­ance, but it is more ef­fec­tive when they are sup­ported by the govern­ment and em­ploy­ers, ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Anne H Gau­thier, Se­nior Re­searcher, Nether­lands In­ter­dis­ci­plinary De­mo­graphic In­sti­tute.

“At home, the aim is to gain greater equal­ity in men and women's shar­ing of house­work and child-car­ing tasks. This can be done through ed­u­ca­tion and in­still­ing new norms and val­ues in favour of greater gen­der equal­ity. Gov­ern­ments and em­ploy­ers can also help by in­tro­duc­ing fam­ily-friendly poli­cies.”

"Once you eman­ci­pate the girl, it's just not for the sake of eman­ci­pa­tion; there has to be log­i­cal con­clu­sion. She needs to go into pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and work. Then she will as­pire to a higher po­si­tion." VIN­CENT MERI­TON Min­istry for Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment, So­cial Af­fairs & Sports, Sey­chelles,

"The con­fer­ence will ex­plore how fam­i­lies can be strength­ened and sup­ported to ful­fil their nu­mer­ous func­tions and will call on gov­ern­ments to take ac­tion at the na­tional level to im­prove wel­fare of fam­i­lies and in­te­grate a fam­ily pol­icy into na­tional pol­icy mak­ing." NOOR AL MALKI AL JE­HANI Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor, Doha In­ter­na­tional Fam­ily In­sti­tute

"We of­ten hear of CSR, but within that is the Cor­po­rate Fam­ily Re­spon­si­bil­ity, which is the com­mit­ment of com­pa­nies to pro­mote, among others, con­cil­i­a­tion poli­cies to in­te­grate the work, fam­ily and the per­sonal lives of their em­ploy­ees."

NURIA CHIN­CHILLA Founder & Pres­i­dent, In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre on Work & Fam­ily, IESE, Univer­sity of Navarra

ANNE CLAIRE Pres­i­dent, Make Moth­ers Mat­ter In­ter­na­tional, UN Gen­eral Con­sul­ta­tive Sta­tus

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