DSPD Banner

International Day of Families


International Day of Families

15 May 1997

     Building Families based on Partnership

Back to IDF 1997


The Situation 

The Issue





6 The Situation


The power imbalances that impede the attainment of partnership and gender equality, within and outside families, operate at many levels in all societies, including the family itself. Discrimination--as it relates to gender, age, and ability-- often starts in the earliest years of life in the family. Equality and partnership within the family are crucial if they are to be achieved in society at large, particularly because it is families that mostly influence the individual and his or her opportunities in life.

The numerous obstacles to achieving partnership within the family, particularly between members of both sexes, create inequality in other levels and spheres of life . There are significant differences in terms of the involvement of women and men in family life, the tasks they perform and the responsibilities they assume. When women are assigned a lower status than men, they may have less access to education, training, employment and ultimately, less income earning capacity. A woman's contribution as unpaid caregiver and home-maker may not be as highly valued as that of her male partner as a paid employee, yet women and girls are frequently required to take full responsibility for child care and household work, which may restrict their access to education and paid employment. In many parts of the world, women continue to bear most of the responsibility for the upbringing of children, caring for other family members and carrying out household work, even when they engage in gainful employment. In addition, men generally fare better in almost every socio-economic indicator: women and girls work longer hours than men; their nutritional and health status is lower because they receive less food and medical care; and they get less than their fair share of the family's income and have limited control or none at all over income property or assets (insert statistics--graphs and/or tables--that support the points mentioned above).

Men may have jobs that demand very long hours of work or long absences from home and that keep them from fulfilling family responsibilities. A man is also much less likely than a woman to be granted legal custody of children when marriage breaks down. Similarly, parental leave may not be

available to men when it is available to women, and when legally accessible to men, it is not encouraged. Balancing work and family responsibilities is a problem for many women and men. Given the extent to which family responsibilities are perceived as the province of women, balancing their work and family responsibilities may be even more difficult for those men who wish to assume their share of domestic responsibilities.

[Back to Top]


The Issue3

The theme "Building families based on partnership" was suggested for the observance of the International Day of Families in recognition of the global priority objective of achieving gender equality as a basic human right and as a condition for people centered development.

In the context of families, partnership may be explored from a policy approach as bringing together the different significant players (partners) in order to develop and implement policies that contribute to strengthening families. Looked at within the family unit, partnership may be interpreted as the sharing of roles and responsibilities of family members in order to contribute to the well-being of its individual members and to the well-being of the family unit. This partnership implies inclusiveness of all family members without discrimination based on age, gender and ability.

A significant aspect of partnership and a central element to social integration in society in general, and particularly in families, is the dimension of gender. The prescription of rigid gender roles, rights and responsibilities in families is rooted in cultural assumptions and widely accepted social norms, and it is affected by social and economic variables. Being aware of common general trends, gender roles and their changes must be interpreted in the social and cultural contexts in which they evolve".

Gender relations are the social, economic, and political relations that determine gender identity of both men and women. Gender relations shape the limits of what a women or a man may undertake in the family or in public life. They also frame male and female behaviour, responsibilities and entitlements. Gender relations are imbedded in all social, cultural, economic and political systems, at all levels. Relationships between spouses, children and partners, employers and employees, and among community members are all influenced by the actual dominant model of gender relations.

[Back to Top]


In a larger context, the role of families as producers and consumers is a vital one. The relationship between families and the workplace, gender equality in employment, child care, the distribution of domestic work in the home and caring responsibilities for vulnerable members of society are all interlinked. Families play a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being of society and should provide an environment where all members--indistinctively of sex, age or ability-- should enjoy the full measure of their human rights as a precondition for development.

[Back to Top]


2Future Priorities.

Policies and programmes at all levels affect families and their ability to facilitate and promote partnership and gender equality. Family impact considerations need to be incorporated in policy decisions and development. Even if policies do not directly address families and gender equality, organizations and agencies, governmental and non-governmental, national or international must be encouraged to recognize that their decisions and actions will usually have an impact on families, and on how families will be formed, how well they functions, and the degree of partnership in them.

Following the International Year of the Family in 1994, there has been an increasing recognition that since men play a key role in the dynamics of intra-familial decision-making, a clearer understanding of these processes is needed, without which equality for women and the rights of children will not be achieved . Therefore, the vulnerability in the status of women and children in families, exacerbated by underlying stereotypical gender roles, should be addressed through dialogue and action that include males [and females] through their life cycle.

Some general assumptions and factors central to building families based on partnership need to be examined and understood by men and women equally if adequate measures and actions are to be taken, and roles are to be changed. Among them are the assumption that women will automatically carry the workload and care for children, and the role of men in family and community decision-making, in influencing the nutritional and psychosocial development of children, and in sharing financial responsibility for family welfare.

The role of males in families needs to develop new dimensions if they are to contribute significantly to make more equitable the role of women, and improve in a sustainable way the stability of family life. Achieving true partnership between men and women in family life requires an equal sharing of rights and responsibilities within the family and in public life. At the same time, contributions of men and women in all spheres, including families, should be supported and regarded as of equal worth.

[Back to Top]


"Families: The Heart of Society. World Social Summit for Development" United Nations Department of Public Information. August 1994.

"Child and dependent care, including the sharing of work and family responsibilities"  Report of the Secretary General. United Nations. New York, 1995.

"Suggested themes for the annual International Day of Families" . Fifth Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Meeting.

Indicative Guide for Action of Family Issues. pp. 20-23. United Nations. Austria, 1995.

Lupri, Eugen. "The Changing Positions of Women and Men in Comparative Perspective" in The Changing Position of Women in Family and Society: a Cross National Comparison. International Studies in Sociology and Social Anthropology. Volume XXXIV.

Richardson, John. Achieving Gender Equality in Families: The Role of Males. Innocenti Global Seminar Summary Report, 8-18 May 1995 Kingston Jamaica. UNICEF, 1995.

[Back to Top]