News / Asia

    Q&A with John Hendra: Women, Cultural Norms and Unpaid Work

    FILE - A child holds an umbrella as a Chinese woman tries to cook in the rain.
    FILE - A child holds an umbrella as a Chinese woman tries to cook in the rain.
    Frances Alonzo
    There is a growing movement of promoting access to work and education for the world’s women and girls. There is evidence that countries that have a higher proportion of gender equality report higher rates of economic growth and human development. Women’s empowerment is also seen as a poverty reduction tool. 
     
    But all too often, due to cultural attitudes, women and girls are left out because of an unequal burden of unpaid care work in the home. It is often young girls who are pulled out of school to maintain household chores and care of family. 
     
    As John Hendra, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, explained to VOA’s Frances Alonzo, there needs to be a concerted effort to not only challenge long held cultural attitudes but to also find ways for the family to distribute the work in the home to include men.
     
    HENDRA: Unpaid care work is domestic work, like meal preparation, cleaning, washing clothes, cleaning the home, water and fuel collection. And it also means direct care of people, so children, older persons, persons with disabilities, which in some cases takes up to two to four hours a day of their time. It takes their time from being able to participate in paid employment.
     
    There’s a lot of lost income from the women not being able to fully access employment.  For example, in Asia Pacific, it loses an estimated $42 to $47 billion on an annual basis. And another $16 to $30 billion is lost each year due to gender gaps in education. So it really means that there is a cost to the family, but there is also a cost to the regional economy if women have to spend an undue amount every day, a disproportionate share of this very important unpaid care work.
     
    ALONZO:  How long does it take for there to be a cultural shift in attitude?
     
    HENDRA:  Cultural change is not a short term endeavor, it’s medium to long term.  The good news though is that change is possible. In Korea, they were able to turn around a very highly skewed sex ratio at birth where at one point, I think it was about 115 boys to 100 girls.  But by talking about how important it is to really have a proper balance, to have much more respect in terms of girls, the Korean society was able to change that. So it’s very important to really be able to know that change is possible, but it’s really important to be able to challenge some of these underlying gender stereotypes.
     
    In terms of unpaid care work in Asia, there are very strong cultural norms. And so it’s really important to rethink the concept of masculinity, in terms of how important it is for fathers to be able to spend time with their children, caring for the children, it’s much better for their overall relationship. It’s much better in terms of enabling women to have full access to education, full access to all their rights. It’s really important to drive change, to rethink traditional attitudes and in terms of engaging men and boys really in stronger promotion of gender equality. 
     
    ALONZO:  But it seems very difficult in those countries where there is a boy preference.  What easy ways can be implemented, that cost no money, that might help these communities?
     
    HENDRA: I think you are absolutely right. I think, in China, there’s still a strong set of cultural norms that really continue to emphasize the role of women as a good wife, a good mother, and the one who bears overwhelming responsibility for household work.  In Malaysia, there is the nation of character project, which is focused on 25 values that are important in terms of character in children. And again, it reinforces the woman’s most important task, in terms of home and family. I think you find the same thing in Cambodia, in Vietnam.
     
    So you are right, there’s a very strong cultural practice that really reinforces these cultural attitudes and that is hard to change. But I do think there are some things that can be done. One is, first of all, recognize the whole issue of unpaid care work. Secondly is to really be able to have an understanding of the economic cost of women not being able to fully participate in paid employment, the economic cost to the family, more importantly perhaps even the economic cost to society. It’s really important in terms of being able for young girls to have full access to education.
     
    So it’s really important, so it’s something that doesn’t cost money, but it’s to be able to redistribute the care responsibility in a family, more towards men, so that young girls are not the ones that really suffer. Often young girls are the first to be pulled out of school. So it’s really important to be able to do whatever is done within the family context. Again, and that does not cost money, but really make sure that the one that doesn’t suffer are girls. It’s really critical that we really look at the issue of unpaid care work because it’s really about ensuring that women have greater access to employment, to education, to leisure time.
     
    Women have the same right as men to be able to access these things after work, but if women are doing sort of double job, in terms of working all day and coming home and working four hours on their own, it’s really an infringement of their rights, but probably more importantly, it’s really a huge opportunity cost for economic growth and human development.

    You May Like

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora