The Need to be Pro-Family for a Stable Society
The pandemic has upended our lives. The global instruction to lockdown, create your safe space and social distancing, created a world of bubbles. Us and them!
Who can forget the thousands of Indians walking back to their villages, the scenes of disbelief as record numbers of Italian elderly were whisked through drive-by funeral services, the bodies piled into refrigeration vans in Rio de Janeiro and New York, and the painful images of family members trying to connect as they waved across the divide of glass and fences.
Then came the stories of deterioration of mental health and increased reproductive labour tasks as (mainly) women took on public roles of teacher, nurse, therapist and protector in the private space. And in South Africa, the messaging, “go back to your home, go back to your family”, highlighted two pandemics; Covid and the scourge of gender-based violence.
On a brighter note, the glass-half-full cheerleaders taught us the art of baking sourdough bread, vegetable gardens in unimaginably small spaces, and reflecting the simple pleasures of connecting as family members.
Yet, a key lesson that has emerged over the last year is the need for governments and policy-makers, for business and wealth creators to recognise not only the role of the family in a crisis but also in the day-to-day activities in private spaces. Unemployment, poor health, financial hardship, teenage pregnancy, divorce, substance abuse, criminality, death, depression and anxiety are part of the family life cycle.
Globally the family unit, however broad or narrowly it may be defined, is the go-to not only in times of joy and celebration but also in times of desperate crises and need. The family remains the fundamental building block of a society.
More often than not, this is associated with a defined geographical space. A stable country is founded on capable and functioning families. The foundation of society is us, the family. For this reason alone, family capability must be acknowledged and supported by governments.
Our government must recognise the link between pro-family and a stable society.
Pro-family is a government-wide approach to family policy and services. The needs of a pregnant teenager, a substance abuser, a person with mental health illness, a criminal, a victim or perpetrator of violence, cannot be addressed within a silo space. These issues affect relations and functioning of the entire family. As such, a holistic approach to family policy and integrated services, and in the South African context where families still gather around a central home, is critical.
Pro-family both accepts and rejects. It accepts the rights of families to pursue norms and values and practices that build and enhance the capability of the unit. But it rejects norms and values and practices that would oppress, harm and damage any members of the unit.
Pro-family goes beyond a family-friendly society, which in the main is understood to mean the recognition that children are part of families and as such need to be recognised within media offerings, recreational activities and work-life balance of their parents.
A pro-family agenda is an acceptance of diversity of forms of marital unions and family forms, religious beliefs, cultural practices and sexual orientation. This pro-approach is easily hijacked by the right or left, conservative or liberal family politics.
A pro-family agenda requires a critical mass of practitioners who demand a pro-family approach on the agendas of politicians, faith and traditional leaders, community authorities, as well as the big business brigade. An approach not for launching. For action!
A pro-family approach analysis society through the lens of a family.
Pro-family is as much about us as it is about them.
Imelda Diouf is the director of the Centre for Family Studies. A special four-part series on the family and economy is running in The Southern Cross from August to November.