women_at_work_bigHappy 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.

IMAGE CREDITS – Claudine Hermann’s photo: Copyright Philippe Lavialle, direction de la communication, Ecole Polytechnique

22 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Piciorus Ana-Maria

    From my point of view Scandinavian men are the best!!! They are helping their wifes in everything!!! They treat women with rispect!!! Is all about education !!! Since they were children their mothers learned them to have rispect for women !!! I will educate my kids in the same way ….

  2. avatar
    Eduardo Barroso

    Well, as a young man I think that if we want equality, than men should participate more actively raising children, at least in the begining. The actual situation leads to put all the responsability of raising kids in the woman and I know that employers take that into account when hiring woman. So my opinion is that it should be given to men more license time when a child borns and maybe less time to womans. With this measure I think a balance can be achieved.

  3. avatar
    Efrossiny Exarchoulakou

    as far as concern the paternity leave i believe it should be exist as a law but if is going to be used it depend from the couple to decide

  4. avatar
    Palma Muñoz Morquilla

    The secret of an intelligent woman to have a balance between her working life and her private life, is to get married with the right man. This is my personal experience.

  5. avatar
    Maria Antónia Silva

    Claro que ainda no h igualdade de gnero…..claro que h uma Europa a dois tempos…….a do Norte e a do Sul…..claro que existe uma grande presso para os trabalhadores no terem filhos……a fim de no utilizarem regalias …..E chegamos aos dias de hoje, em que os nascimentos so inferiores aos bitos! Ou muito ligeiramente superiores……….Este debate tem de ser intensivo! A chantagem nos locais de trabalho, subtil, venenosa, asquerosa, imprpria de seres ditos de “humanos” inteligentes…..

  6. avatar
    Joshua Jackson Pj Victor

    Some kind of matter that need to be hardly argueed in order to find more equality and transparence! Mainly the employers have to change they policies of pressure against workers.

  7. avatar
    Penny Laing

    Why not men fathers need to get invalid in house and children care
    It’s much Easy if the women has help
    Times chanch
    In USA happens few years now and grown every day

  8. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Eu hoje digo que não nos paises de exesso de defice hoje a crise esta ás clares de destruição de familias europeias e para se criar essa igualdade de Gênero é preciso que o pais esteja bem finaceiramente os estados tem que ser mais participativos em assuntos sociais

  9. avatar

    I was raised by “right off the boat” Portuguese mother and father. My mom was the homemaker and my father was the provider/accountant. I was taught, that men, were suppose to provide for there families and since they believed that one day I would be provided for, they weren’t concerned about my education. They were very wrong. I am a divorced, 30 year old mother of four(two boys 11 & 8 and two girls 7 & 6 , and the last year I completed in school was the 8th grade. I was 15 when I stopped going to school. I worked two full time jobs. Got promoted by one and left the other. Then i got pregnant and had to brake the news to my parents. now I was still living under there roof , I told them and without a pause they asked, “What is the wedding date” I replied, “wedding?? Date?? What?? I guess the end of the month??” I did get married, and worked till the day I gave birth, well, I had to call them to tell them I couldn’t make it Because i was in labor. I tried going back to work when my son was 7 months and I hated being away from my little one. His hole schedule was of and it was a nightmare. After a month i couldn’t work my baby needed me and child care wasn’t an option because of being induced, due to a high blood pressure disorder from stress. he was a preemie and more prone to the RSV virus. The RSV virus could be life threatening to a premature infant for up to two years of age but, then came 3 more all born 4 weeks yearly that was 8 years i had to stay home , but proud to announce i am currently getting my education and persuing a career.
    So my point of all this is. There shouldn’t be any maternity or paternity laws and Palma Muñoz Morquilla you are 100% right about “marring the write man” AND i also agree that every couple has different circumstances and they should be the ones that decide. Sorry this was to long.

  10. avatar
    catherine benning

    Europeans do not remotely have a work/family balance. in essence we have abandoned any sense of family connection as being important or desirable.

    Chidren are abandoned as babies to kindergartens and child minders and as a result have no sense of connection or unity with their family. In fact many of them belong to ferral gans and sex traders as they have no sense of belonging or feeling of worthiness. Woman are forced by political correctness and social engineering to become automatons only significant if they perform some form of activity outside their home. Which means they are exploited as a cheap work force for those who have no interest in the social cohesion within our society or feel any duty toward the next generation.

    In the UK this government we have presently in power plans to make the family working week ten hours a day six days a week. Which of course is now the norm in the USA.

    The disgrace is, we have put up with this incursion into our quality of life without a peep of discord or fight against those promoting it. And as a result they will get bolder and bolder until life is barely worth living.

    Britain before work become a mother’s sole duty and when time was spent getting to know each other.


    Now, the poverty and with it time is never enough.


  11. avatar
    Chalks Corriette

    I am not sure how best to get there – I just want people to have better choice as to how they want to live, earn money and spend time with family, friends and self. The cost of living makes the need to chase money a high priority for many. Family and relationships suffer becasue of the lack of time to be in a state where we can contribute to our communities. I would like more choice as to what my work/life can be, and I would like to see governments provide better tools to allow people to bring money into thier lives in other less traditional ways. It is also important to find ways to reward people that can do social or community work – given them credits towards their pensions and other benefits. There is just so much to do and so much to think about. We also have to figure out which probelms we are trying to solve the most. Possilbly the rout cause is some where that we are not looking as we are so fixated by the issues of equality, work/life balance and so on….. what caused the issues in the first place?

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