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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs