UN Prioritizes Effective Family Policies

18 Dec 2019

Effective family-oriented policies and programs are critical for poverty reduction, the promotion of gender equality, the advancement of work-family balance and the prevention of family homelessness, states a UN report.

The UN Secretary General’s report “Implementation of the Objectives of the International Year of the Family and its Follow-up Processes” presents an overview of the current situation, goals, and governmental and civil society initiatives. Excerpts follow:

Families around the world are changing, many becoming smaller as the number of single-parent households grows.

The diminishing number of extended families and the increasing number of single-parent families put into sharp focus the issue of social protection. Informal social protection has been traditionally offered within extended families through reciprocal or shared care arrangements. With changing family structures, such arrangements are often not viable; hence the growing importance of formal social protection systems and the need for gender-sensitive measures.

As an increasing number of women take part in the formal and informal labor force, while continuing to assume a disproportionate burden of household work in comparison with men, work-family balance is more difficult to achieve. The imperative of ensuring gender equality in the family is therefore gaining more attention. Additional trends, such as rapid urbanization affecting families and the apparent rise in family homelessness, require further attention.

Despite a rapid decline in working poverty rates over the past decades, 8 percent of employed workers and their families worldwide still live in extreme poverty, with only 45 percent of the world’s population effectively covered by at least one social protection cash benefit. Worldwide, one out of five children live in extreme poverty, 46 percent of whom are under the age of 14. Such deprivation in childhood can lead to persistent and lifelong negative effects.  

Social protection coverage is linked to birth registration, which is an indispensable precondition for claiming individual rights, including basic social services. Globally, however, less than 73 percent of children under 5 years of age have had their births registered.

Worldwide, women are disproportionally excluded from social protection. Separation, divorce and widowhood have more adverse economic consequences for women than for men. In families headed by single mothers with one income earner, close to 80 percent of women are in paid work, but they still face a high risk of poverty and challenges in access to resources, the labor market and social services. Such families face larger deficits of time and wages than two-parent families, regardless of the number of income earners, owing to the absence of a second caregiver. 

Single-mother families mostly lack the additional resources provided by a partner living in the same household and face negative consequences of gender pay gaps and the “motherhood pay gap.” Moreover, mothers with custody of children are not adequately protected financially in most countries, owing to the low level of alimony payments from fathers. Without partner support, work-family balance may become impossible to achieve. Furthermore, a lack of access to affordable housing, childcare services, child benefits and paid leave can lead to deep poverty traps. What’s more, access to resources by women, including land and inheritance, is still limited in many countries, exacerbating the poverty risks affecting them and their families.

In terms of unpaid work, according to the latest data from around 90 countries, women spend, on average, about three times as much time as men do in unpaid care and domestic work, including taking care of children and older persons. The gender gap tends to widen when women have young children at home.

There has been visible progress in paid parental leave provision in the past two decades, including a slow but steady rise in the number of countries offering paternity leave. Overall, 54 percent of countries currently meet the International Labor Office minimum standard of 14 weeks. Even in some of the world’s highest-income countries, paternity leave is not as widely available as maternity leave and tends to be much shorter than maternity leave.

Social transfers are regarded as key to reducing poverty in single-parent households, and child- and family-related allowances have been gaining traction in all developing regions. Cash transfers are critical to promoting income security and investing in children’s development and have resulted in improved nutrition, health and school attendance. Nevertheless, conditional, means-tested transfers often miss those most excluded. Moreover, there has been growing recognition that cash transfers should be backed by broader investments in health, education and childcare services, in addition to investments in accessible and affordable infrastructure, including housing and transportation.

As key institutions for human capital development, families deserve greater protection and assistance in various forms, depending on their needs. Fostering stable families is a priority for many countries, as is the promotion of the role of the family in social protection provisions for youth, older persons and people with disabilities, as that vital function makes societies more inclusive. 

Noting that family-oriented strategies could help to reduce poverty and provide social protection at the national level, Member States emphasized that one of the main objectives of the International Year of the Family was to strengthen national institutions to formulate and implement family-oriented policies aimed at responding to challenges faced by families. They also welcomed the initiatives taken at national level to fulfil that goal.