FAMILY IS THE CRUX
“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