It is the best kept secret of 2014 – the 20-year anniversary of the International Year of the Family. The United Nations has been passing resolutions about it and some NGOs have been working solidly to raise awareness of it in different countries, but there’s not a word about it in the media. MercatorNet asked Ignacio Socias, Director of International Relations for the International Federation for Family Development …

What is actually happening?

A lot of things are happening during this year. There have been awareness raising meetings in more than a dozen countries and many other initiatives in different places – radio and television programs, meetings. In the English-speaking world, for example, Families Australia – an umbrella organization including 600 member organizations – has organized a National Families Week, Family Links is holding a conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, in Canada Our Kids Network launched a call to follow the UN’s global message to celebrate and learn about families during the Anniversary, Family Impact in Zimbabwe is producing a report about the state of family in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Spain UNAF has organized a Technical Conference on Positive Parenting, just to name a few of them.

But you are right, the media do not always focus something as ordinary as celebrating the joy of families, and they prefer to look for extreme situations, which are the exception and not the general rule.

What is the focus or theme of IYF2014?

In response to challenges families have to face nowadays, United Nations decided the twentieth anniversary of the IYF should focus on exploring family-oriented policies and strategies in three areas: confronting family poverty; ensuring work-family balance and advancing social integration and intergenerational solidarity.

Is this a real opportunity for promoting the family, or is it the UN paying lip-service to an institution it often seems to ignore or misunderstand?

I think it is a great chance to show the role of families in development, to take stock of recent trends in family policy development, to share good practices in family policy-making and to review challenges faced by families worldwide — as the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has repeatedly said.

What is the UN itself doing about the year?

Following the Secretary General’s Annual Report on the situation of the family worldwide, they have produced different resolutions of the General Assembly for the past five years encouraging governments “to continue to make every possible effort to realize the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes and to integrate a family perspective into national policymaking.”

They have also formally asked governments what their plans were to put it into practice, held different Expert Group Meetings to produce recommendations at an international and the regional levels, published books like the one about Men in Families and organized the celebration of the International Day of Families on May 15 in their headquarters.

What sorts of things has the International Federation for Family Development been doing?

As an international federation in General Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council, IFFD has been trying to follow all the guidelines given by the General Assembly and the General Secretary. We have organized events in Madrid, Warsaw, Brussels, Lagos, Nairobi, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and New York, attended by hundreds of law-makers, academics and Civil Society representatives. We give especial importance to the IFFD Briefing we celebrate every year during the Sessions of the Commission for Social Development in UN Headquarters and to the regional Expert Group Meetings we have organized for UN in Europe and North America.

We also launched a Declaration of Civil Society on the occasion of this Anniversary with an unprecedented success – up to now, 300 organizations from 67 countries and more than 500 diplomats, politicians and academics from 87 countries have joined it. We also run a website  and a Facebook page with information about these and other events.

The Gulf state of Qatar has been playing a prominent role. What special interests or concerns do they have?

Qatar has led most initiatives in favor of family within the UN system since the institution of the International Year of the Family in 1994, together with the so-called Group of 77, now a coalition of 133 developing countries plus China. After the first Doha International Conference on the Family in 2004, they created what is now the Doha International Family Institute (DIFI) to promote different activities around the world.

There was a big conference in Doha last week. Can you tell us a little about that?

It is in some ways a continuation of the one held in 2004, and it has brought together 200 policy makers, NGOs, experts, academics and other stakeholders on a global platform, to discuss how families can be empowered, revisit challenges faced by families worldwide and highlight the role of effective national family policies in promoting family wellbeing.

Its main objective has been focusing the world’s attention on the mounting evidence that links empowering families and the achievement of Development Goals. This is particularly important during this time, when the new Goals are being elaborated for the post 2015 era.

As a member of the drafting committee for the outcome document of the conference, the Doha Call to Action (see below), I can tell you that it is directly addressed to governments and it stresses that “the family is not only the fundamental group unit of society but is also the fundamental agent for sustainable, social, economic and cultural development.”

The big defaulters in this process seem to be (western) governments. What can we do in our own countries and local areas at this stage to promote the IYF and its goals?

In my opinion, there has been too much discussion about wording. We all know how important families are for every human being and for the whole of society. Every community depends for the future on how they develop family-oriented policies and programmes, and allocate adequate human and financial resources to implement, monitor and evaluate them, as the Doha Call to Action says. The demographic challenge, the equality issues and the need for more intergenerational solidarity asks for all of us to work together if we want to leave a better world to our children.


Doha Call to Action  

We, the representatives of civil society, academia, policy makers and individuals participating in the International Conference organized in Doha, Qatar on the 16-17 of April, 2014 by the Doha International Family Institute (DIFI), member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family;

Having considered the conference theme “Empowering Families: A Pathway to Development,”

Reaffirming that the family is not only the fundamental group unit of society but is also the fundamental agent for sustainable, social, economic and cultural development,

Stressing the importance of designing, implementing and monitoring family-oriented policies, especially in the areas of poverty eradication, full employment and decent work, work family balance and social integration and intergenerational solidarity,

Emphasizing that the achievement of development goals especially those relating to the eradication of poverty, education of children, especially girls and reduction in maternal mortality depends, to a significant extent, on how families are empowered to fulfill their numerous functions,

Emphasizing further that strategic focus on families offers a comprehensive approach to solving some of the persistent development challenges such as inequality and social exclusion,

Call on governments to empower and enable families to contribute to development by taking the following actions:

1. Develop comprehensive and coherent policies, integrate cross sectorial approach to support family stability and establish/strengthen a national mechanism to develop family-oriented policies and programmes and allocate adequate human and financial resources to implement, monitor and evaluate them.

2. Promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, reform discriminatory laws and policies, particularly family laws, and enact legislations to end child marriage and violence against women.

3. Recognize the contribution and responsibility of men to families, develop policies to address the impact of the absence of males/fathers on family wellbeing and promote active fatherhood.

4. Focus poverty alleviation strategies on the family as a unit and acknowledge that family breakdown can be both a root cause and an effect of poverty and its prevention is a priority.

5. Adopt policies to ensure work-family balance, so that the responsibilities of parenting and maintaining families do not fall primarily on women and collaborate with the private sector to protect and support workers with family responsibilities.

6. Value important contributions of all generations within the family, design and implement policies to strengthen intergenerational solidarity and partnerships and promote healthy intra-family relations.

7. Ensure the systematic collection of data and statistics on family wellbeing and collaborate on good practice exchange at national, regional and international levels.

8. Develop and implement family focused policies and interventions to strengthen and support families in vulnerable situations (such as conflict, natural disasters and health epidemics including HIV / AIDS and malaria).

9. Create an enabling environment for a meaningful contribution of civil society organizations in the design, implementation and monitoring of family policies and programs and remove barriers to the establishment, work and funding of non-governmental organizations.

10. Acknowledge that families are at the center of sustainable development and ensure that families are an integral part of the post 2015 development agenda.

Ignacio Socias is Director of the International Federation for Family Development, an umbrella organization for more than 250 Family Enrichment Centers that operates in 70 countries, benefits over 90,000...