Redefining Care: Bridging the Gender Care Gap in LAC

Estimated reading time: 4 mins approx.

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), involving men in domestic care goes beyond gender equity; it reflects an ongoing social and cultural shift in the region. Current policies aimed at fostering greater male participation at home seek not only to alleviate the disproportionate burden traditionally carried by women but also to strengthen family bonds and encourage child development.

However, despite the good intentions behind these policies, their effectiveness remains a topic for discussion. Men spend an average of 11 hours per week on domestic chores and unpaid care, compared to the 22 hours women contribute. This gap widens in households with young children, suggesting that barriers to equal participation are both structural and cultural. The issue manifests not only in the domestic sphere but also in occupational segregation, with minimal male presence in care sectors (6% compared to 30% female).

There is a significant lack of studies analyzing the effectiveness of public policies in genuinely increasing equitable male participation in caregiving. Although there have been progressive advances in parental leave policies in the region, a significant gap remains in understanding their actual impact. We know that well-designed paternity leave can encourage fathers to become more involved in childcare, a crucial step towards gender equality. However, with only 16 countries in the region offering paid paternity leave, often of short duration, it's clear there is substantial room for improvement. The success of these policies is highly influenced by social and gender norms, which can hinder their effective adoption and implementation.

For instance, in Ecuador, the extension of paternity leave has shown an increase in 20% in active fatherly participation in childcare. Despite positive data, more evidence is needed on the lasting effects of these changes and whether such policies can alter long-term gender dynamics within the home.

On the other hand, services like daycare and after-school programs offer mothers the chance to re-enter the workforce, but their impact on an equitable distribution of domestic work remains uncertain. In theory, these services should enable both parents to share household responsibilities. However, this does not always translate into greater paternal engagement. The question remains open: Are these policies truly inviting fathers to actively participate in daily caregiving, or are they simply easing the load historically placed on mothers?

Flexible work is another promising initiative for better care distribution, but without an organizational culture supporting gender equality, its potential might not be fully realized. It's crucial to understand not just how these policies can free up time for parents but also how to encourage and normalize their active use in daily caregiving.

Despite international recommendations aimed at boosting male participation in sectors traditionally dominated by women, such as caregiving, early education, and healthcare, there remains a significant gap in understanding the efficacy of such policies. European experiences offer a variety of strategies to combat workplace gender segregation, ranging from targeted recruitment campaigns to affirmative action policies.

For instance, the Flemish Community in Belgium initiated the 'Men in Childcare' project in 2002 to draw more men into childcare roles through a dedicated marketing campaign and additional support measures to ease the entry and retention of men in these sectors. Although the initiative concluded after a year and saw an uptick in male students entering the field, further research is necessary to ascertain the direct impact of these efforts on career choices.

In Finland, a quota system enforced until 1989 aimed to achieve a gender balance among primary school teachers yielded encouraging outcomes in terms of educational attainment and the career progression of children who spent more time with male teachers. While these instances offer valuable insights, they fail to comprehensively evaluate such policies' effectiveness. This underscores the pressing need for more thorough research and analysis in contexts akin to LAC.

It is crucial to measure outcomes not only by policy implementation but also by significant behavioral changes and their influence on a more equitable distribution of care. As LAC moves towards deeper gender equality in caregiving, it is vital to ensure that policies are effective both in theory and practice. We invite you to download the policy brief from the GDLab, the Gender and Diversity Knowledge Initiative of the IDB, for a deeper dive into this discussion.

GDLab, the Gender and Diversity Knowledge Initiative of the IDB

The IDB Group’s Gender and Diversity Knowledge Initiative (GDLab), promotes, leads, and finances high-impact research aimed at achieving a more inclusive and equitable society in Latin American and Caribbean countries. For this purpose, GDLab focuses on existing gaps between men and women and the inequalities faced by indigenous peoples, afro descendants, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ persons in the region.

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