Families are a critical part of the landscape that defines our world. Although the experience of family life is essentially universal, families themselves do not take one form, and nor should they.
Laws, policies and social norms can create and reinforce fundamental gender inequalities in family relationships, which impacts on broader societies. With this Report, UN Women calls on governments, civil society and the private sector to recognize the rich diversity of families, and to work together to advance women’s rights and ensure that all families can flourish.
UN Women’s vision for families is as a home for equality and justice – a place where women can exercise choice and voice, and where women have physical safety and economic security.
- Families can be ‘make or break’ for women and girls when it comes to achieving their rights.
- While families can be places of love, care and fulfillment, too often they are spaces where women and girls’ rights are violated, and their voices stifled.
- 3 billion women and girls live in countries where rape within marriage is not explicitly criminalized
- Around one third of married women in developing countries report having little or no say over their own healthcare
- Women’s physical safety and economic security in families are frequently not guaranteed.
- In 2017, an estimated 58 per cent of female victims of murder were killed by a member of their own family, amounting to 137 women every day.
- In 40 countries with data, lone-mother households are on average twice as likely to live in poverty, compared to dual-parent households.
- Discriminatory family laws, policies and social norms deprive many women of the opportunity to make choices about marriage, motherhood and work.
- More than one in five women aged 15-49 who want to use modern contraception are not able to do so.
- Women do three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men.
- Marriage and motherhood penalties affect women’s labour force participation rates and income. Globally, just over half of married women aged 25-54 are in the labour force, compared to two thirds of single women.
- Families are diverse and changing. To advance gender equality, laws and policies need to be based on the reality of how families live today.
- Global data show great diversity in how families live together:
- 38 per cent of households are couples living with children (of any age).
- Extended families, which include other relatives, are also common, at 27 per cent.
- Lone parent families are 8 per cent of households. The vast majority (84 per cent) are led by women, often juggling paid work, child rearing and potentially care of other dependents too.
- Major demographic and social changes are transforming women’s family lives:
- Age of marriage has increased in all regions. While in some regions, marriage remains universal, in others, women are delaying marriage, or choosing to cohabit first or instead of getting married.
- Birth rates have declined in all regions - from 4.4 in the 1970s to 2.4 today - reflecting greater gender equality and women’s access to reproductive healthcare.
- Ensuring that families are places of equality and justice is good for economies and societies, and has the potential to unlock progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Families, economies and governments are inter-dependent: each needs the other to flourish to achieve prosperous societies.
- When girls are free to complete their education and can avoid early marriage and childbearing, they can enjoy improved health, find more rewarding employment and have greater decision-making power in their family lives.
- Families are places where children and older people are cared for. Without this work to raise the next generation and take care of those in need, economies and societies would grind to a halt.
- Progress on many of the SDGs depends on promoting gender equality within families.
- Achieving SDG 5, gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, requires the elimination of violence and harmful practices, ensuring women have equal access to economic resources, and promoting shared responsibility for unpaid care work.
- The SDGs on eliminating poverty and hunger, improving health and education and promoting sustainable economic growth also depend on the advancement of women at home and in society.
- UN Women calls for a comprehensive family-friendly policy agenda, based on human rights, to advance gender equality in diverse families, so that women and girls:
- Can exercise choice and voice in their lives:
- Equal family laws are needed to ensure that women can choose whether, when and who to marry; that provide the possibility of divorce if needed; and enable women’s access to family resources.
- Investments in public services are critical, especially education and reproductive healthcare, so that women’s and girls’ life choices are expanded, and they can make informed choices about sex and childbearing.
- Are assured of physical safety:
- Laws and policies must be implemented to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, which often occurs in the context of families.
- Access to justice and support services for survivors, as well as substantial austerity-proof investments in prevention programmes to address the causes of violence are essential.
- Are guaranteed economic security:
- Gender-responsive social protection systems are needed for all (irrespective of migration status), including paid maternity and parental leave; social transfers for all families with children, with extra support for lone parents; and adequate pensions.
- High-quality care services for children, older and disabled persons support families to care, enable women and men with care responsibilities to access paid work, and generate quality employment in the care sector.
- These policies are a sound – and affordable – investment for countries that want to build successful economies and societies, in which women and girls can achieve their rights and all families can thrive.
A study commissioned for this Report found that most countries could implement a package of policies, including cash transfers, healthcare, and care services for children and older people for less than 5 per cent of GDP.
 The 40 countries in this sample are high and upper middle-income countries.
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