Gender equality requires more and better investment in the social sector

Achieving a better work-life balance has been high on the political agenda in the European Union. A Work-Life-Balance Package has been proposed in 2017 that entails legislative and non-legislative measures aimed at advancing regulations and developments in this area. Recently, the directive on a better work-life balance has found a provisional agreement in the Trilogue negotiations between the EU Council, Parliament and the Commission.

The directive and package on work-life balance is connected to principle 9 of the European Pillar of Social Rights that clearly states that “parents and people with caring responsibilities have the right to suitable leave, flexible working arrangements and access to care services. Women and men shall have equal access to special leaves of absence in order to fulfil their caring responsibilities and be encouraged to use them in a balanced way.”

Importantly, parents and caretakers must be supported so that they do not have to make a choice between their family lives and their professional careers. This particularly applies to women who still carry a disproportionate share of unpaid care work and household responsibilities. In the spirit of an equal partnership, a cultural change must be achieved that takes for granted that housework and care must be shared and be seen as an equal responsibility by both partners.

In regard to work-life balance, we must not underestimate the importance of accessible, affordable and good quality formal care services. This is one of the main findings of a report commissioned by Social Services Europe, a network of social service providers on the EU level which SOLIDAR is a member of. The research offers recommendations and looks into promising practices of social service provision and their impact on work-life balance as well as offering an in-depth analysis of the environment which enables the development of such services.

Organised by Social Services Europe, the event to present this study took place on 20 February in the European Parliament. The presentation and recommendations were followed by a panel discussion with Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz, Member of European Parliament , Irma Krysiak from the European Commission, Anna Ludwinek, research manager at Eurofund and Liz Gosme, director at COFACE Families Europe. The discussion underlined that to achieve gender equality we need better and more investments in care such as childcare and long-term care facilities. The serious labour shortage in the social sector is a severe challenge mainly caused by the lack of adequate remuneration and difficult working conditions. While some positive developments have been made in some EU Member States, the improvements have been very uneven.

The report and discussion highlighted that social services contribute significantly to work-life balance particularly for women. Furthermore, quality services represent an essential measure to reduce caring pressures while at the same time increasing women’s participation in the labour market. SOLIDAR is convinced that on top of legislative measures a cultural change is inevitable. Expectations and responsibilities for unpaid work have traditionally been defined by gendered roles and divisions within families and societies. To achieve societies with better work-life balance and gender equality, the fight must therefore be fought in a formal or legal and informal or cultural way. 

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