Dads in quarantine: An opportunity for change

Date: Friday, August 7, 2020

Joint Op-ed

By Maya Morsy, Jan Thesleff and Christine Arab

Cairo - 7 August 2020: Unable to leave home during the COVID-19 lockdown, Egyptian families have been spending more time than ever inside, and together. Despite the many challenges of enforced isolation, this has in many cases deepened bonds and led to a reflection on the existing burden of unpaid domestic work that women perform – and at least some tentative redistributions.

Dr. Maya Morsy is the President of the National Council for Women | Jan Thesleff is the Ambassador of Sweden to Egypt | Christine Arab is a Country representative of UN Women in Egypt.
Maya Morsy, President of the National Council for Women (left); Jan Thesleff, Ambassador of Sweden to Egypt (middle); Christine Arab, Country representative of UN Women in Egypt (right).

Between 4 to 14 April, the National Council for Women (NCW),– this year celebrating its 20th anniversary, Baseera & UN Women –conducted a rapid assessment survey of 1,500 women on COVID-19, including its impact on domestic violence & unpaid care work. The survey reveals that 11% of married women have been subject to spousal violence during the week before the survey and after the COVID-19 outbreak in Egypt.

The survey indicates that the less educated women are most exposed to violence, given that the proportion declines from 14% among women of below-intermediate education to 4% among women of university education or above. Exposure to violence also declines with higher economic level, with results showing that the proportion declines from 14% among the lowest economic level to 6% among the highest economic level.. Overall, results from the survey show that women aged 30 to below 50 are the most vulnerable to spousal violence compared to other age brackets (12% and 9% among younger and older women respectively).

In 2017, UN Women published ground-breaking research on male attitudes and actions towards gender equality, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The “International Men and Gender Equality Survey” (IMAGES) for the Middle East and North Africa included a dedicated chapter on Egypt, with nearly 2,800 male and female respondents in both rural and urban areas.

It found that less than a third of male respondents said their fathers or other male relatives ever cooked or cleaned and fewer than a quarter of men reported having actually cooked or cleaned in the past month. A greater number – almost three-quarters of men – reported playing with their children; however, the vast majority of men and women said that changing nappies, bathing and feeding children should be a woman’s responsibility.

Perhaps the mere fact of being home all day has allowed men to witness the sheer enormity of the childcare and domestic responsibilities that many women have long shouldered in silence. By contributing a greater share of housework, men are providing positive role models for their children. The IMAGES research shows that men who see their fathers do housework are far more likely to do it themselves, as adults.

During COVID19, Egypt was the first country globally to issue its own policy note to propose suggested measure to be taken by the government to support women. Furthermore, Egypt is the first country to issue women policy tracker, which is means to monitor and highlight the Egyptian Government policies & measures that are considerate to women’s needs. The tracker - which was developed by the National Council for Women – has had 4 editions issued since April and has tracked 106 measure/policy/decree issued by the government during this time.

Even before COVID-19, there was evidence that Egyptian men want to become more involved fathers. The IMAGES survey found that although only one-tenth of Egyptian men took unpaid time off after the birth of their youngest child, many more said they would like the option, with at least half supporting the idea of paid paternity leave of up to two weeks.

To promote positive notions of masculinity and fatherhood, in 2019, UN Women Egypt entered the second phase of its “Men and Women for Gender Equality” Regional Program, supported by SIDA. It builds on the solid foundation established during phase one to accelerate transformative change through broader community outreach, and institutional and legal change.

A photo exhibit entitled “Because I am a Father: Egyptian and Swedish Dads” was displayed at Bibliotheca Alexandrina in 2019, and in Cairo in 2018, highlighting stories of engaged Egyptian dads who share responsibility for childcare, with the aim of nurturing a more gender-equal generation.

 
 Part the of the photo exhibit entitled “Because I am a Father: Egyptian and Swedish Dads” featuring photos from Egypt and Sweden, portraying the universal role of fatherhood.
Part of the photo exhibit entitled "Because I am a Father: Egyptian and Swedish Dads" featuring photos from Egypt and Sweden, portraying the universal role of fathers. Photo: Courtesy of The National Council for Women.

 Part the of the photo exhibit entitled “Because I am a Father: Egyptian and Swedish Dads” featuring photos from Egypt and Sweden, portraying the universal role of fatherhood.
Part of the photo exhibit entitled "Because I am a Father: Egyptian and Swedish Dads" featuring photos from Egypt and Sweden, portraying the universal role of fathers. Photo: Courtesy of The National Council for Women.

In 2019, a football tournament for boys from Egypt’s 27 governorates was organized by the NCW in partnership with UN Women and the Ministry of Youth, gathering 300 football players and coaches to raise their awareness and sensitize them on positive masculinities. Moreover, the #Because_I_am_a_Man social media campaign run by UN Women, SIDA and the NCW, has reached more than 10 million followers since 2017.

Egypt made significant strides in engaging men and boys into the women’s empowerment agenda. The National Strategy for Egyptian Women’s empowerment 2030 in Egypt, endorsed by its President, was drafted based upon a participatory approach to include the opinion of 175,000 men & women. The Strategy also states that “The success of the Strategy depends on the active participation of all social groups, men and boys in particular, as well as all state institutions and executive bodies”.

The National Council for Women has not only launched & supported dedicating a campaign for men, but also have engaged men into other awareness raising campaigns such as the secret of your power.

The mainstreaming of the women’s empowerment agenda within the already existing mechanisms is the key success to this agenda, and the participatory approach of engaging all society’s segments, especially men and boys, is the only way to push it forward.

In April, Sweden launched an initiative dubbed “Quarantine Dads” in Pakistan, which encourages fathers to post positive pandemic parenting photos and videos on social media.IMAGES research suggests that women’s paid employment may drive men’s greater participation in daily chores and care-giving, given that 45 per cent of male respondents whose spouses worked full-time reported doing domestic work – a rate far higher than for men whose wives did not work. However, in the IMAGES survey, only around a third of men – mainly those with jobs or higher education – supported the idea of women working outside the home. In contrast, three-quarters of women wanted the same right to work. In 2019, around 23.8 per cent of Egyptian women participated in the labour force.

For Egypt to realize 100 percent of its potential, it needs to utilize 100 percent of its 100 million population.

Besides being an intrinsic right that is enshrined in the Egyptian constitution, research has proven that women's economic empowerment yields strong economic returns and may be the most critical enabler to achieving sustainable development: In a 2015 study, the McKinsey Global Institute finds that – when considering a scenario in which women participate in the economy identically to men – $28 trillion, or 26 percent, would be added to annual global GDP in 2025 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

And we could witness similar benefits in Egypt. According to the research institution ‘Catalyst’, if women’s employment rates were equal to the ones of men, then the overall GDP would increase by 34%. This is more urgent than ever amid post-pandemic economic constraints.

In other words, facilitating and enabling the strong engagement of women in the economy, through measures such as equal sharing of childcare and domestic chores between women and men, increasing public investments in social care services and promoting work-life balance regulations in the private sector, presents an economic win-win situation for families, communities and the country.

So, could the silver lining with the COVID-19 crisis lie in the opportunity to open dialogue on shared responsibility within the household (Sustainable Development Goal target 5.4) and to increase men’s role in care-giving and women’s greater involvement in the workplace?

We have all seen the Ramadan commercial about Mohamed Salah playing with his daughter in confinement, but we don’t need to be football stars to become change-makers and reshape traditional gender norms. Everyone will gain from it, both men and women.

Extending paternity leave and family-friendly policies or support services for working parents, such as subsidized childcare, can be of help. It can openly challenge gender stereotypes about traditional male and female roles, in its own discourse as well as more actively, by revising school texts and curricula, implementing school-based engendered education for boys and girls, and building on existing evidence-based parent-training programs.

Public information campaigns and school-based efforts can also target boys and girls at younger ages on the importance of harnessing everyone’s potential in the formal economy and the need to share care and domestic work.