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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.