International Day of Families
A woman and her son inside her husband's shop in Darfur. On top of running this small business, the family relies on planting crops and collecting firewood to survive. UN

People across the world are observing May 15 as International Day of Families. On this day, the United Nations (UN) comes up with a unique theme and this year's theme is "Ensuring Work Family Balance" highlighting the need for work-family balance. The aim is to help workers everywhere provide financial and emotional support for their families and also contribute to the socio-economic development of their societies.

The UN has come up with several fun-filled activities and awareness-raising events. Workshops and conferences, radio and television programmes and cultural programmes highlighting relevant themes are being organised.

The International Day of Families was declared by the UN General Assembly in 1993, in order to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.

Millions of people around the world lack decent working conditions and the social support to care for their families. Affordable quality childcare is rarely available in developing countries, where many parents are forced to leave their preschool children home alone. Many young children are also left in the care of older siblings who, in turn, are pulled from school, according to a UN report.

A number of countries offer leave provisions for mothers and fathers. Few countries provide comprehensive benefits in line with international standards. Paternity leave provisions are still rare in a majority of developing countries.

"Flexible working arrangements, including staggered working hours, compressed work schedules or telecommuting, are becoming more widely available - but there is much room for improvement everywhere. I am committed to this in our own organisation, where we are currently looking at our own arrangements, and seeing what we can do better," said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General at the UN, in a statement.

"We need to respond to the ever-changing complexities of work and family life. I welcome the establishment of family-friendly workplaces through parental leave provisions, flexible working arrangements and better childcare," he added.

Ki-Moon said that such policies and programmes are critical to enhancing the work-family balance. These actions can also lead to better working conditions, greater employee health and productivity, and a more concerted focus on gender equality.

Work-family balance policies demonstrate both a government's commitment to the well-being of families and the private sector's commitment to social responsibility.

"On this International Day of Families, let us renew our pledge to promote work-family balance for the benefit of families and society at large," Ki-Moon said.