International Day of Families

Men in charge? Gender Equality and Children's Rights in Contemporary Families

Established by the UN in the 90s, 15 May is dedicated to the International Day of Families, an event that provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.

"Men in charge? Gender Equality and Children's Rights in Contemporary Families" is the theme of the 2015 International Day of Families. This is why the United Nations have chosen to focus on women's right to participate in decision-making within their families, in the same way as men.

These rights, women have fought tooth and nail to get them in our democratic countries, and they are now enshrined in law. However it is a different story in some countries of the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia where discrimination against women is built into legal frameworks and government policies, therefore condoning practices reinforcing inequalities. UN calls these countries to comply with international standards and outlaw gender discrimination in their legal frameworks.  For instance, in many countries statutory inheritance laws differentiate between women and men, so do marriage laws, not to mention the fact that women cannot confer their nationality to their children and foreign spouses. 

The law often reflects societal customs, but only by changing these discriminatory laws that one can expect to slowly change those customs and fight discrimination more effectively. What is at stake is the empowerment of women, that is to say, the opportunity given to them to educate themselves and educate their children, to become economically independent and thus participate in the development of their own country.

In Europe, the Americas and other industrialized countries, the stakes are different. In these countries the family is also one of main pillars of society. But, apart conventional nuclear families, there is now a multitude of different family types, including blended families, single-parent, same-sex parent families, foster families etc. All these societal evolutions must also be reflected in laws, which is not the case everywhere. One may for example think of the rights of the step-parent in a blended family, the adoption rights in same-sex parent families and the establishment of paternity for children born from gestational surrogacy.

Regarding these new families, we can rejoice to see that they are increasingly accepted and recognized. Although public opinion is slow to change, it shows that these societal changes are not only irreversible, but they are also a sign of great richness. For there is only richness in a diversity respectful of human rights.

Nevertheless, it behooves us to maintain a vigilant focus – because such evolutions, especially when they are enshrined in law, may give rise to reactions of rejection as seen in some countries. We must also ensure that the view shared by society as a whole upon these evolutions does not undermine the rights of children to develop healthily and live a happy life, regardless of the type of family they live in.

It also behooves us, once again, to denounce the violence perpetrated against women, at the very heart of families on a daily basis. One on three women worldwide have experienced either physical, or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner. The International Day of Families should also loudly denounce this ignominy.