The majority of caring responsibilities for family members are still undertaken by women: Only every third man in the EU engages in daily cooking and housework, compared to nearly 8 in 10 women, as the recently published Gender Equality Index 2017 of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) reveals. Family and caring responsibilities are the reason why 44% of women in the EU indicate they are unable to find a full-time job or work part-time, compared to 11% of men.
It’s mainly women that work in the social and care sector – with irregular hours including night shifts, low pay and lacking recognition from society for their immense contribution to the well-being of people with disabilities, elderly persons and others in vulnerable situations. Some of these women (and men) get up caring, go to work caring and go to bed caring for others. Every single day. This has a major impact on women’s opportunities, be that in economic, social or political spheres.
The need for greater gender equality in the care and support sector was discussed at the annual meeting in Vilnius in February between EIGE and representatives of civil society organisations, including Social Platform and EASPD. What struck me most: some women with caring responsibilities at home who receive some form of minimum income scheme prefer this option, when the alternative is a low-paid job that will not allow them to finance external support via a service provider. Getting such a job would just be a double burden. I believe that policy makers, and we as a sector, can contribute to breaking this vicious cycle.
Gender balance in care and household responsibilities is on the policy agenda at different levels. The European Pillar of Social Rights (Principle 2) and the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 5.4) both call for recognising the value of care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure as well as social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household.
The Directive on Work-Life Balance, which will hopefully be passed this year, introduces some great EU-wide standards on measures such as paternity leave, carers leave and the right to request flexible working arrangements to encourage a better sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men. EIGE will work on a report to be published in 2019 related to work-life balance, which will give us better data on the effects of some of the policy measures that will be introduced by the Directive and that already exist in a number of Member States.
This will also help us as a sector to gain a deeper and more differentiated understanding of the needs and to come up with innovative and effective solutions to support carers and their loved ones in a better way. Of course, there are already solutions on the table which we can roll out further, as a study commissioned by Social Services Europe this year will show. EASPD will keep you posted.
We need to think outside of the box to provide sustainable and quality long-term and ad-hoc services, also by harnessing opportunities linked to co-production and lean-management methods, as well as migration or digitalisation, just to name a few.
We have been addressing some of the challenges on retention and recruitment in an ever growing social sector in EASPD’s Interest Group on Workforce Development and Human Resources. We will continue looking into how we can resolve them. We still have a long way to go to render the social sector more attractive, not just for women, but for men, too. On a personal note, I would not be sitting here in Brussels putting my ideas on paper, if I wasn’t sure that my parent is getting good and professional support at home in Germany (by a team of women, by the way ;-). So, I am determined to break the vicious cycle, so why don’t you join me at the next Interest Group at EASPD’s Annual Conference in Varna in June, so we can reflect together on how we can contribute to change.
Vice-Chair of EASPD's Interest Group on Workforce Development and Human Resources
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 EIGE 2015: Gender equality and economic independence: part-time work and self-employment.