Beyond health: Andalusia’s revolutionary approach to family gender equality

Strong family bonds are the pillars of wellbeing for people of all ages from children to adults. However, families come in all shapes and sizes, and each faces unique challenges. Initiatives such as Andalusia's 'Open Window to the Families' programme recognises this by providing crucial support to nurture wellbeing for everyone, regardless of their family structure.

Monica Padial, a Technical Officer in Communications and Francisco Ruiz Domínguez, Senior advisor from the Andalusian Regional Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs in Spain, provides valuable insights into how this initiative is helping to empower families across the region.

Underneath the surface of family dynamics lies a deeper societal issue: gender stereotypes. For generations, the unequal distribution of household and childcare responsibilities has fuelled these stereotypes, heightening social bias, prejudice, and discrimination.

Across cultures and societies, people face pressure to conform to gender roles and stereotypes, often reinforced through media, marketing, and advertising. Advertising campaigns can significantly shape these narratives, often heightening negative gender norms, roles, and behaviours that can cause individuals to feel inadequate, worthless, and invisible.

Such stereotypes not only impact individuals in family settings but are also echoed through education, and employment such as the lack of representation of women in science, technology, engineering, math, and sometimes art occupations (STE(A)M). This underscores the need to promote initiatives that challenge and pull apart these ingrained biases.

The family unit is a child's first classroom, where they learn about tasks, duties, roles, and responsibilities from within its walls. Yet, society often pushes these lessons through a lens of gender roles. Historically, men held the power and public space, while women were expected to be homemakers. The impact of this unequal socialising effect is seen in how we view parenting roles, chores, and even how we raise children. Children who witness these stereotypical task divisions at home grow up to see these gender roles as 'normal' and may continue to reinforce them themselves.

Balancing these roles in today's families and creating co-responsibility between genders can be challenging, but it's important to breakdown these psychological, social, and cultural barriers that hinder families from adopting changes aimed at greater gender equality. Real equality means supporting families to question role patterns to understand what works for them. Co-responsibility encompasses various family situations, and optimal child development does not depend on one specific family type—the members that make up the family and the type of relationship they share with the other members—but rather on a parents' internal dynamics such as affection, communication, mutual respect, daily collaboration, support during difficulties, and involvement in healthcare.

Facilitating healthier choices

In the region of Andalusia, active steps are being taken to breakdown stereotypes around family life. At the Andalusian Regional Ministry of Health, we are on a path to reshape the landscape of family health and gender equality. Our toolkit, an 'Open Window to the Families’ (Una ventana abierta a la familia, or UVAF), provides comprehensive support to families raising their children from birth to adolescence.

It encourages healthy habits and positive relationships throughout a child's development. This aligns perfectly with the Andalusian Public Health Act, which emphasises the promotion of health in Andalusia and that "neither gender roles nor differences in cultural level, functional capacity, ethnicity or socioeconomic situation constitute a source of disadvantage or discrimination in being able to choose the healthiest lifestyles." This encourages actions that foster physical, mental, and social development for all residents while creating conditions that facilitate healthier choices for both individuals and society as a whole.

Our Open Window to Families programme addresses child socialisation from a gender perspective in a transversal way. In society, the construction of a gender identity and its roles are defined as a set of functions, tasks, responsibilities, advantages and/or privileges that make up the pre-established model of how being a man or a woman is conceived in a society, based on biological sex. In order to change the roles traditionally shaped by the social and cultural process of society, it's necessary to put prejudices aside and modify these stereotypes. New masculinities refer to how the roles historically assigned to men can be reconstructed and changed. Characteristics such as being strong, brave, independent, competitive and having initiative and authority have been traditionally and exclusively attributed to men. This is a social and cultural construction that can therefore be changed. Breaking with this hegemony of masculinity that limits the social and emotional development of men based on stereotypes and roles such as that men do not express their emotions or fully exercise their parenting is a way to change the concept of masculinity.

New masculinities imply greater co-responsibility of men and the development of a new masculinity, involved with and committed to equality, one that favours sharing the economic burden within families, promotes self-care and coherence and the right exercise of a more responsible citizenship.

With this philosophy in mind, our Open Window to Families toolkit offers guidelines on co-responsibility in child health care, online courses on Co-responsibility and Positive Parenting, and a broad range of audiovisual materials on co-responsibility, new masculinities and gender roles, among others.

Recommendation 19 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to Member States on Policies Supporting Positive Parenting defines positive parenting as “parental behaviour based on the best interests of the child, that cares for and develops their abilities, it is non-violent and offers recognition and guidance including setting limits that allow the child's full development.” The same Recommendation highlights that positive parenting must “be based on the equal participation of fathers and mothers and respect their complementarity” and also “Special attention will be paid to the important role of fathers (men) in the care and education of their children”, particularly taking into account the principle of gender equality, the impact that the reconciliation of work and family life has on families and family breakdown, which often results in (male) parents living separately from children." For our Open Window to Families programme, the promotion of positive parenting and the involvement of men in child health care constitutes an opportunity to promote their role as caregivers, whether of parents, children, siblings or partners. It is also a responsibility for men in which they have not traditionally been involved for cultural reasons and gender inequality. For men, shared responsibility for caring contributes to the wellbeing of the home. Co-responsibility in the shared support of health care for both children and adolescents and the entire family, and co-responsibility in the balanced organisation of household tasks also makes it possible to reconcile family life with work life. The benefits of this male co-responsibility come from the learning, by men, of skills and competencies, and the acquisition of greater autonomy, at a professional, economic and family level. In this way, men, by joining the private space, forge a better bond with their children by sharing care tasks.

By empowering families to make healthier choices through this platform, we are paving the way for a future focused on both individual and societal wellbeing. It challenges us to envision a future where family health and gender equality are central to thriving communities. But could initiatives like our UVAF serve as a model for public health and social progress, not just here, in Andalusia, but beyond?

Co-responsibility encompasses various family dynamics, whether there are one or two adults, same-sex or different-sex partners, with or without previous relationships. Children may be born from the union of the adults, or come into the family through assisted reproduction, adoption, or foster care, but the key to good child development lies not in the family structure but in the quality of relationships within the family: affection, communication, mutual respect, daily collaboration, support during challenges, and active involvement in the care and stimulation of children.

Promoting equality is promoting health

The Andalusian region proudly champions the motto: ‘Promoting equality is promoting health.’ This committment shines through the regions active participation in the nationwide eqaulity plan, 'Co-responsibility' (Corresponsables) plan, sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Equality. Over the past two years, Andalusia has made a special effort to raise awareness and equip families with the tools they need to improve their knowledge of co-responsibility and healthcare. 

UVAF offers a comprehensive approach, promoting not just healthy child-rearing but also fostering gender equality and the involvement of all family members.

The heart of this initiative is the UVAF's online training platform. Here, families can access free courses that encourage co-responsibility and equality in sharing household chores and healthcare responsibilities. These courses go beyond simple instruction, providing families with valuable guidance and tools, recognising families as crucial spaces for socialisation, and building a more egalitarian society based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.

But the UVAF goes beyond just courses. To equip families for success, it has incorporated engaging audio-visual content. These resources tackle relevant topics such as co-responsibility, task distribution, co-education, work-life balance, evolving ideas of masculinities, and the importance of gender equality. By addressing these themes head on, the UVAF empowers families to reap the benefits of a more balanced and equitable approach.

Parents, carers and families can also receive periodic messages about child and adolescent health through the Salud Responde app, aimed at users who wish to have easy access to the medical and nursing appointments in Primary Care of the Andalusian Health Service, as well as to the different contents of health interest that Salud Responde offers.

As part of the Strategic Health Plan for Children and Adolescents 2023-2027, our 'Open Window to the Family' toolkit serves as a vital communication tool aimed at promoting the health and wellbeing of Andalusian children and adolescents. It's also accessible to health professionals within Primary Health Care Teams in Andalusia, who are involved in the Andalusian Child and Adolescent Health Programme. This programme emphasises monitoring child and adolescent health through preventive and health promotion activities during Primary Care Pediatric consultations.

Of course, a programme such as this needs evaluating to understan its impact and reach. Every year, two semi-annual monitoring reports and one annual report are prepared. This year, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of its launch, the project will be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness as a public policy, by an external agent, the Andalusian Institute of Public Administration (Andaluz de Administración Pública).

The Andalusian region proudly champions the motto: ‘Promoting equality is promoting health.By empowering families to make healthier choices, UVAF paves the way for a future focused on both individual and societal wellbeing. It challenges us to envision a future where family health and gender equality are central to thriving communities. 

Championing wellbeing

UVAF isn't just about promoting healthy habits; its commitment also champions emotional wellbeing. Dedicated sections of its website address this crucial aspect of life, guiding parents through the complexities of the six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. The information offered by UVAF fosters resilient parent-child connections, nurturing families during challenging times such as separation or divorce, and offering guidance on navigating the complexities of foster care. It also empowers individuals to identify early signs of mental health concerns and equips them with the tools to prevent violence and addiction.

Yet co-responsibility encompasses various family dynamics, whether there are one or two adults, same-sex or different-sex partners, with or without previous relationships. Children may be born from the union of the adults, or come into the family through assisted reproduction, adoption, or foster care, but the key to good child development lies not in the family structure but in the quality of relationships within the family: affection, communication, mutual respect, daily collaboration, support during challenges, and active involvement in the care and stimulation of children. Promoting equality and acknowledging family diversity is essential, with dedicated sections addressing diverse family situations, including blended families, separation, and divorce.

Since its launch in 2014, UVAF has been actively serving Andalusian families, providing them with an essential range of resources and information to foster positive parenting and shared responsibilities within households. Beside information on emotional wellbeing, registered families receive practical advice on a wide range of topics, including accident prevention, vaccinations, breastfeeding, socialisation, emotional wellbeing, and nutrition, delivered via text or email. Additionally, parents can seek guidance and ask specific questions about their children's health and development through the Health Response (Salud Responde) support service.

Monica Padial
Technical Officer in Communications at Junta de Andalucía

Monica is the communication coordinator in the Public Health Coordination Unit at the General Directorate of Public Health of the Regional Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs of Andalusia, Spain. As a journalist who holds a doctorate in Health Sciences and a Master´s degree in Physical Activity and Health, she has coordinated the dissemination actions of 'Ventana Abierta a la Familia' since its inception. Alongside, she has also been involved in European projects dealing with health promotion and new technologies.

portrait of francisco ruiz
Francisco Ruiz Domínguez

Francisco holds a PhD in Social Psychology and he has worked at the Directorate General of Public Health in the Andalusian Regional Ministry of Health in Spain since 2005. He is a strong advocate of international collaboration projects. From his position at the Public Health Coordination Unit, he is inspiring other colleagues to be involved in the international arena.

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