Happy International Women’s Day! Since its origins in the North American and European labour movements in the early twentieth century, International Women’s Day has been celebrated on 8 March in many countries around the world. Here at Debating Europe, we’ve decided to mark the occassion with a series of posts looking at the current state of gender equality in the EU. You can read the other posts in this series here.
Today, we’ll be looking at the question of the work / family balance in Europe, and what the approaches are to this in different European countries. We were encouraged to debate this issue by comments we received from readers, including from Julia and Klara on Facebook.
Klara, for example, argued:
A crucial issue is the lack of childcare in many European countries, in combination with the general expectation that mothers (and not fathers) are responsible for taking care of the children. In order to improve gender equality, both these issues have to be addressed. All families should have access to affordable childcare, and fathers should be encouraged to take out parental leave and actually get to know their children!
Before we look at the responses from our interviews, let’s take a look at a couple of statistics. 55% of the working population of the EU is made up of men, of whom only 9% are employed part-time. On the other hand, it was much more common for women to be employed part-time (32% of women in employment are working part-time). Interestingly, a man with one or more children is more likely to be employed than a man without children; however, a women’s chances of being employed actually decrease the more children she has.
This would seem to support Julia and Klara’s argument that, in Europe, people believe it is a woman’s job to look after the family whilst the man goes out to work. Is this a problem? Are there other arrangements that could allow both men and women to care for children whilst still juggling a career? Or is this unrealistic?
We took Julia and Klara’s comments to Thaima Samman, President of the European Network for Women in Leadership (WIL), and asked her what she thought:
Next, we spoke to Sonja Lokar, Executive Director of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Network for Gender Issues. What did she think?
Women are currently in a take-it-or-leave-it situation when it comes to their careers. When they want the top positions in science, academia, big companies, etc., they cannot choose them because the lifestyle in these professions is inhuman. It’s not just difficult for women, it’s also difficult for men. So, if we want more women to be in these positions, the lifestyle in these positions needs to change not only for women, but also for men. I don’t think it is very good for men not to be a parent, not to be a husband, not to be a homemaker, etc.
Everybody should have the right not just to work, work, work and then die of it, but also to live and to be a normal human being.
Finally, we had a comment sent in from Inés about the European Commission’s “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!” video from last year, which set out to promote careers in science and education for women, but ended up offending a lot of female scientists through its vision of high heels in the laboratory. Inés thought that:
Instead of wasting their money on prolonging sexist gender stereotypes, [the European Commission] could come up with actual schemes such as scholarships to encourage women to go into science. Just a thought…
We took this suggestion to Claudine Hermann, Vice-president of the European Platform of Women Scientists, to see how she would respond:
The percentage of women science students in universities is high, but the people who end up in the most senior positions are mostly men. This is because of the way the careers are built and the problem of the biological clock.
If you want a family, you cannot wait forever because you won’t be able to have children any more, and the conditions of instability in research positions, including changing countries several times over many years, and getting to a permanent position only very late in your life, is not something that helps women. If, at the political level, people want more women scientists, then they have to consider the working conditions.
What do YOU think? Do Europeans have the right balance between work life and family life? Should men be given better paternity leave so they can better share the responsibility of caring for children? Or, with unemployment so high in Europe, is talk of better balancing work and family life naïve? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.