BUSINESS
09/30/2015 09:53 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2015

Gender Equality Won't Just Change Women's Lives -- It'll Change Everyone's

"We should think of this not as a women's problem, but as a care problem."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and chief executive officer of the New America Foundation, speaks during the Aspen Ideas Fest
Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images
Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and chief executive officer of the New America Foundation, speaks during the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado, U.S., on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. 

What would the world be like if we achieved true equality for women?  

The global economy might be stronger, for one thing. But such a shift would need to come with trade-offs -- adjusting traditional gender roles and modifying public policies to support a balanced family life.

A recent report from McKinsey & Company estimated that if women were to achieve economic parity with men across the world -- meaning they worked the same hours and made the same amount of money in total -- the resulting economic output would add $28 trillion in global gross domestic product per year.

What the report doesn't mention, however, is who would take over the vast amount of unpaid labor that women around the world do for their households and families on a daily basis. 

True, women aren't the only ones who raise children, care for aging parents and sick relatives or do the cooking and cleaning; but globally, women are still the default caregivers in many places. If more women choose to pursue careers and professional leadership roles, more men also need to step into the role of caregiver. On top of that, governments and employers must recognize the importance of caregiving and provide benefits that encourage it. 

This is the point of foreign policy expert Anne Marie Slaughter's new book, Unfinished Business, a follow-up to her seminal 2012 Atlantic piece, "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All." 

At a book launch event Monday night hosted by the New America Foundation, where Slaughter serves as CEO, the author spoke to former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn about what Slaughter calls the "infrastructure of care." In the U.S., this infrastructure barely exists. It used to be maintained largely by the women who stayed home. As women have gone into the workforce, families have had to patch together a way to take care of young children and ageing parents -- with less and less time to spare.

"We need an equal infrastructure of care: a set of arrangements and institutions that allows citizens to flourish not only in the pursuit of their individual goals but also in their relationships to one another," Slaughter wrote in her book.

We build and maintain roads as a society because we recognize that most people will need to use them. Why, she asked, do we not provide "high-quality paid care" for those who need it: the young, the sick and the elderly? 

Both women and men, she argued on Monday, must manage to balance their work and their families in a world where the workday is never really over, paid family leave is not a guarantee and childcare often costs more than rent. "We should think of this not as a women's problem, but as a care problem," Slaughter said at the event.

She added that while men need to step into larger family roles if there is going to be more equality at work, reworking society is a policy problem that goes far beyond the struggles of ambition in wealthy families. People across the class spectrum need more support than they currently get for caregiving.

Slaughter mentions in her book that one of the most progressive organizations when it comes to subsidizing care is, ironically, the Pentagon. The Department of Defense provides on-site day care for children of the men and women who work there. They also pay the day care employees just as well as other employes. 

"[T]he part of the U.S. government most directly responsible for upholding national security recognizes the need to pay wages that can attract and retain college- and graduate-school-educated workers to provide care and early learning to the children of all employees from birth onward," she wrote.

Indeed, Slaughter said in both the book and at Monday's talk that she believes the care of young children is important enough to rise to the level of a national security issue.

"Children's brains are shaped most in the first five years of their lives, so it's not an exaggeration to say that the care and education of our children from birth to age five is a national security issue," she wrote in her book.  

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