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A. Jiwani: Strong Family Values as a Foundation for a Peaceful Nation

Address to a Conference on "Promoting Strong Family Values as a Foundation for a Peaceful Nation"
Universal Peace Federation and Women's Federation for World Peace
Toronto, Canada, June 9, 2012

Today’s occasion reminds us that the Canadian family is a basic and natural unit which plays a crucial role in nurturing and caring for individual family members, from children, to youth, to men and women. We are here today to remind all Canadians about the need for this unit to remain solid and for its members to work together in an effort to build strong and vibrant communities.

The theme for this year’s UN International Day of Families is “Ensuring Work - Family Balance,” which is precisely about reconciling work and family life. Did you know that according to Health Unit Canada, work/family conflicts have progressively worsened in the last ten years? The percentage of parents who have a hard time juggling work and family has steadily risen since 1996 and now sits between 46 and 61 percent. Some studies suggest that this situation will likely continue to deteriorate. Thus, it is important for our community to recognize the equal value of both work and family life. Such transformation would ensure that caregiving responsibility is shared between men and women with society at large, including the responsibility of the state.

In essence, both men and women have a right to paid employment without being forced to neglect their family responsibilities. Fathers must no longer be regarded merely as breadwinners but also as full partners in co-parenting and assume household duties taken traditionally by women. This is even more necessary in a world where, among other factors, there is a rise in women’s professional and educational status and the corresponding increase in the importance of their earnings and new demands on their professional careers.

Thus, on this year’s International Day of Families, we as a global family need to look towards novel work arrangement that stimulate balance between work and family life. Such novel arrangements that we as a society desperately need to sustain our families and work environments include flexible working arrangements, staggered working hours, compressed work schedules, or telecommuting,

Today, I would like to encourage the Canadian government and world leaders to create programs are critical to enhancing the work-family balance. These actions can also lead to better working conditions, greater employee health and productivity, and a more concerted focus on gender equality.

Research shows that the annual costs of absenteeism in Canada, due to work-life conflict, are approximately $3-5 billion, and thus enacting policies for work life is the smart thing to do; it is the right thing to do!

One of the major challenges facing families and their work-life balance is the problem of domestic violence, especially gender-based violence. As humans, we come from a violent past where the majority of the people were brutalized and violently attacked in two wars in Europe, including through the use of state resources and machineries.

This violence extended into the homes, where men steeped in the ideology of patriarchy, and some would after feeling emasculated by the political and economic systems, exercise force over their female spouses and children.

Given this context, our Canadian society has to develop an integrated violence-prevention strategy that seeks to ensure that we work towards breaking the cycle and culture of violence in families.

Aside from ending the violence in our families, I believe that in order to solidly ground nations in a peaceful condition, we must encourage family members to engage in volunteering and political participation.

The most recent analysis of the Canadian National Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating found that the probability of volunteering was higher among those who, in their youth, had a parent who volunteered. Lead by example, as they say; and it works, especially in the relationship of children and their parents and the greater society.

Being the President of the UN Women Canada National Committee, or maybe just because I am a woman, it seems necessary to talk about the role of women in a given family, and the impact women have in attaining a peaceful nation.

A few months ago, I was asked to fly to Pakistan. The reason for this invite was something I had never thought I would hear in my lifetime: men were asked to stay at home and watch the kids, while women were called to meet in a public park to show their support and demand for more gender equality in Pakistan at the Pakistan Women’s Assembly. As I spoke about increasing the role and recognition of women in politics at the Assembly, I was overwhelmed to see over one million women surrounding the two-storey stage that I was so anxiously occupying. All of these women wanted peace… wanted a voice… and wanted their children to experience every benefit and comfort the world could offer.

In that moment and through subsequent conferences internationally, I realized that the greater the role of women in the political and economic aspects of society, the more likely the nation will see peace and prosperity. Why is this? First of all, because a society that is fair and just towards its own people will be more likely to extend that same sense of justice to other societies and their members. Secondly, support for a woman is often equated with support for her family, as women are more likely than men to invest financially and emotionally in the well-being and upbringing of their children; thus, investing in women is investing in families, families who will then invest back into society.

When a large proportion of women in a society are involved in the political process, even at a very local level, women’s influence can act as a powerful influence on government decision-making.

Throughout all of my international engagements, I have seen first hand that the relative number of women who participate in the political process and decision-making is low, and that is a fact in every nation, in every corner of the world. So where are the women? Well, many of them are still at home, and even those who work in the formal employment sector are also working at home. Across the globe, women have been increasing their participation in the labor market, but this has not been balanced by a decrease in their at-home responsibilities. The work-life balance for these women is thus out of line, prohibiting their ability to participate in the political process, even if the structures for their participation are present. For example, greater numbers of children reduce the amount of time women may have for political participation as well as the probability that women will work outside the home. Working outside the home opens up opportunities for political and economic advancement.

Strong families lead to strong nations, but you can’t have a strong nation without strong women. Women can be active participants in the development of their communities if and only if they are provided with the political, economic, and social supports required to achieve a functional work-life balance and a balance with society.

In conclusion, I want to use this important occasion to re-emphasize the need for mutual support and protection between families and communities. Communities must promote an understanding of family issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons in our families. Women form an important part of families and communities and they have a right to be heard, to be understood, and to evolve like everyone else. The marginalization of women limits their potential to contribute to society. Let us work together to create a balance between work and our life, and let us empower women to create strong, productive, and sustainable families.

On this International Day of Families, let us renew our pledge to promote work-family balance for the benefit of families and society at large.