UD's Bahira Sherif Trask discussed the changing nature of families around the world at a conference in Qatar on the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family.

'Families Matter'

Trask speaks at UN conference marking anniversary of International Year of Family

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1:29 p.m., April 30, 2014--Representatives of civil society and academia, policymakers, and experts from around the world recently came together in Qatar to discuss the pivotal role that families play in all societies around the world.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ International Year of the Family (IYF), the Doha International Family Institute (DIFA) held a two-day conference in April with the theme “Empowering Families: A Pathway to Development.”

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The University of Delaware’s Bahira Sherif Trask, professor and associate chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and policy scientist in the Center for Community Research and Service, was invited to speak at the plenary session, “Families Matter.”

Trask, who specializes in globalization, diversity, family and personal relations, and work-life issues, represented the Western perspective on the changing nature of families. 

Trask argued that families have always changed, historically, based on social, economic, and political circumstances. In order to support satisfactory, productive lives for individuals and families, officials need to create appropriate social policies that take into account these transformations. 

“There are many value conflicts around how to define families,” said Trask. “America is characterized by extreme diversity. This leads to us having to negotiate very different cultural values – and this also makes us a model for the rest of the world for how to respect and value multiple view points and cultural beliefs.”

According to Trask, globalization is affecting social changes around the world and, consequently, transforming family structures. Women have joined the workforce, children are exposed to different types of households and lifestyles, including dual-earning parents or single-parent homes, and there is a general increase in interconnectedness.

Yet, despite families’ contributions to society and overall development, their circumstances and perspectives are rarely taken into consideration when social policy decisions are made.

“It is time for governments and employers to recognize that families are dealing with many different obligations, and to create policies that support their citizens and employees to live more balanced lives. A little understood fact is that when employees are supported in their family lives, this is good for the bottom line of businesses,” said Trask.

Trask argued that when it comes to making choices, it is in families or small groups that decisions are made. She shared that most people make collective evaluations when deciding to change jobs, move, or other major life changes because these decisions usually do not just affect the individual.

As mentioned in the conference’s call to action, “families are fundamental units of society and are agents for sustainable, social, economic and cultural development.”

“Families have always mattered and will continue to matter in the future,” said Trask. “People don’t think about the importance of family. They think about the economy, politics, and the environment; but at the core of all this is people’s relationships with others.”

It is in families, however they are defined, that children are raised and socialized. These close relationships are a fundamental aspect of the human experience, because “happiness comes in great part from satisfactory connections to others,” said Trask. 

The Doha call to action for the conference emphasized, “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.”

Trask has been invited to United Nations conferences in New York, Qatar and Mexico this year to speak on the complex issues of global family changes, work-family balance, and the roles of women and men in the new economy.

Article by Elizabeth Adams

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