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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs