Wednesday, 14 May 2014


“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - LeoTolstoy

The International Day of Families is observed on the 15th of May every year. The Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 with resolution A/RES/47/237 and reflects the importance the international community attaches to families. This International Day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.

The International Day of Families has inspired a series of awareness-raising events, including national family days. In many countries, that day provides an opportunity to highlight different areas of interest and importance to families. Activities include workshops and conferences, radio and television programmes, newspaper articles and cultural initiatives highlighting relevant themes.

The International Day of Families in 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family and offers an opportunity to refocus on the role of families in development; take stock of recent trends in family policy development; share good practices in family policy making; review challenges faced by families worldwide and recommend solutions.

There is no single view or universal consensus on what makes up a family. Families are far too diverse and dynamic to be pigeon-holed or strictly defined. Yet in any culture, the family provides a natural framework in which individuals (and especially children) can receive the emotional, financial and material nourishment and support that is indispensable to their development. If a family has children, their normal, safe, supported and healthy growth and development should be foremost in that family’s activities.

Families all over the world have been undergoing many profound changes and transformations. Family size and structure have changed markedly and continue to evolve in response to powerful social, economic and technological developments. One important transformation is urbanisation and a continuing shift from extended to nuclear families. At the beginning of the 20th century, 15 per cent of the world lived in urban areas. As of 2003, 48 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. The proportion of the world population that is urban is expected to rise to 61 per cent by 2030. As a consequence of this significant transition, the rural, farm-oriented family is increasingly being replaced by the urban, industrial and service-oriented family. Agrarian life-styles based on the extended family have changed dramatically towards urban life with the increasingly common nuclear family.

Mothers play a critical role in the family, which is a powerful force for social cohesion and integration. The mother-child relationship is vital for the healthy development of children. And mothers are not only caregivers; they are also breadwinners for their families. Yet women continue to face major (or even life-threatening) challenges in motherhood. Childbirth, which should be a cause for celebration, is a grave health risk for too many women in developing countries. A woman in a least-developed country is 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than a woman in a developed country.

Violence against women, many of whom are mothers, remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations of our time. It has far-reaching consequences, endangering the lives of women and girls, harming their families and communities, and damaging the very fabric of societies. Ending and preventing violence against women should be a key priority for all countries. Access to education is also something that should be everyone’s right. The benefits of educating women and girls are not only important to individual families but to whole countries, unlocking the potential of women to contribute to broader development efforts. Statistics also show that educated mothers are much more likely to keep their children in school, meaning that the benefits of education transcend generations.

Fathers in many societies have been moral teachers, disciplinarians and breadwinners. Increasingly now, there is an emphasis on the father’s role as a co-parent, fully engaged in the emotional and practical day-to-day aspects of raising children. Recent research has affirmed the positive impact of active involvement by fathers in the development of their children. Yet challenges persist for fathers, as well as for society and social policy. Too many men have difficulty assuming the responsibilities of fatherhood, often with damaging consequences to families and inevitably society at large. Some fathers inflict domestic violence or even sexual abuse, devastating families and creating profound physical and emotional scars in children. Others abandon their families outright and fail to provide support. Researchers continue to explore how the presence or absence of fathers can affect children, in areas such as school achievement and crime.

Families can be the place where humane values and human progress are fostered and developed. We should be creating the conditions families need to fully realise their potential. As families develop in a supported social environment, they are also the beneficiaries of that development. Where development is slow or absent, a family’s ability to meet the needs of its members will be impaired. And where development is undermined by conflict, and instability prevails, families are undermined as well, robbing societies of an essential building block for peace and prosperity.

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