In the past fifty years, women have made significant strides toward achieving economic equality around the world. According to Women, Business and the Law 2014, more than half of the legal restrictions affecting women’s economic opportunities around the world in 1960 were removed by 2010, raising the status of women under the law. More and more women are able to own land, open up bank accounts, apply for business loans and participate in the economy.
In addition to the removal of legal restrictions in the U.S. and around the world, legal incentives aimed at increasing women’s economic participation are being enacted, such as women-specific tax credits and increased childcare and education services. For example, Israel’s Cabinet recently approved free education to all children 3 and older, expanding free childcare services for working families and women. In Sweden, policies providing 480 days of paid parental leave, with 60 days reserved exclusively for the father, encourage women to participate more equitably in the economy.
“Globally, women are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. At the current rate, we’ll have to wait 81 years before we see gender parity in the workplace.”
Despite such progress, economic equality for women has not yet been achieved. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity stands at 60% worldwide – measured by the difference between women’s labor force participation, wages, and incomes as compared to men. Globally, women are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. At the current rate, we’ll have to wait 81 years before we see gender parity in the workplace.
Having witnessed so much progress, what more must be done to ensure that women are working more, earning more and leading in the workplace? The answer seems to lie with men.
Traditionally, advocates for women’s political, social and economic rights have been women themselves. Yet today, thanks to greater cultural acceptance of feminism and movements such as the HeForShecampaign, made popular by actor Emma Watson in a 2014 speech at the UN, men too are taking a stand for gender equality worldwide.
Although including men in the fight is a vitally important step, their involvement alone is not enough. True gender equality does not solely entail elevating the status of women, but also requires breaking down the stereotypes that encompass both genders. Just as women and girls do not want to be bound by gender stereotypes and discriminatory social norms, neither do men and boys.
Cultural norms create a narrow frame of masculinity that has not yet been expanded. Samar Minallah Khan, a renowned documentarian, examines ideas of masculinity and how they impact men and women in places like Pakistan and India. Her recent film shares stories of men and boys who have defied traditional gender norms in order to fight for women’s equality – a man who refused to give up his daughter as a child bride and a boy who convinced his family to let his sister go to college with him. For these men, “being a man” entails standing up for gender equality.
Yet for so many men, “being a man” entails perpetuating the existing gender norms – valuing sons over their daughters, keeping women in the home instead of in schools and in the workforce, or committing violence against women. What many don’t realize is that “men, too, face hurdles for speaking up and for challenging norms,” Khan says. “Standing up in the face of society and country expectations, that takes a lot of courage.”
An essential step in altering the existing views of masculinity is to encourage men to take on more roles and responsibilities traditionally held by women, just as women have been encouraged to take on those traditionally held by men. MenCare, a breakthrough campaign, recognizes the importance of men’s roles in households and society in the fight for gender equality. Their global fatherhood campaign seeks to promote men’s involvement as equitable caregivers.
“Unless men and boys participate equally in unpaid work in the home, and unless governments, employers, and families expect and support this involvement, gender equality will not be achieved.”
According to the UN-commissioned Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016, “Across all economies and cultures, women and girls carry out the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work. Globally, women do nearly 2.5 times as much of this work as men, with large gender disparities in time spent cooking, cleaning and caring for household members.” The disproportionate amount of time women spend on household chores confines women’s productivity, and their place in society, to the home.
“Unless men and boys participate equally in unpaid work in the home, and unless governments, employers, and families expect and support this involvement, gender equality will not be achieved,” explains the recently published MenCare report. “Women’s potential – in the workforce and economic spheres, in political and cultural life, and beyond – will also never be fully realized.”
While women have begun to earn acceptance in the workforce in the past decades, men have not yet seen societal acceptance as caregivers and homemakers. Ideas of masculinity – created by men, women and society – greatly affect the relationships and roles of men and women in households and in the workforce. In Rwanda, men’s participation in the domestic tasks is stigmatized by other men and by women, and men acknowledged hiding their participation in household chores as a result. In India, women were found to believe that increased male involvement in the home would signal “their failure as women, mothers and daughters.”
Yet the benefits of men taking on more responsibility at home are immense. “Promoting more equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work between women and men can help address stereotypes and change social norms,” writes Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. When men take part in and recognize the value of traditionally undervalued “women’s work” in the home, they begin to recognize the value and potential contributions of women in the broader society as well.
Further, when men are more involved in care work, it allows for women to be more involved in the economy. And, if women participated in the labor market at the same rates as men do, it is estimated that the gross domestic product (GDP) could increase in the United States by five percent, in Japan by nine percent, in the United Arab Emirates by 12 percent, and in Egypt by 34 percent. Women cannot increase their participation in the economy if men are not increasing their participation at home.
“If women participated in the labor market at the same rates as men do, it is estimated that the gross domestic product (GDP) could increase in the United States by five percent, in Japan by nine percent, in the United Arab Emirates by 12 percent, and in Egypt by 34 percent.”
These benefits also reach beyond the current generation. Research finds that “when boys see their fathers, or other men in the household, carrying out caregiving and domestic work and interacting with female partners in equitable ways, they are more likely to do the same when they become adults, and to grow up believing in and living gender equality.” The daughters of these men are also more likely to “aspire to less traditional and potentially higher-paying jobs.” Gender norms are taught and learned, and if men today start changing the perception of what “being a man” means to include a role in caregiving and work at home, the next generation could follow suit.
With a focus on women alone, we lose sight of the full picture that encompasses gender equality – a picture that involves the roles of women and men. Only by rethinking our ideas of men can we fully empower women.