Director Carlien Scheele addressed the EPSCO Council in Brussels on 8 December 2022 on why the European Care Strategy offers much needed hope for the future.

Dear Chair, dear Ministers,

Thank you to the Czech Presidency for inviting me here today to discuss the importance on potentially, a very positive move for gender equality.  

The Care Strategy. A strategy, which if adopted, offers much needed reprieve and relief to take us into the new year with renewed hope for the future.

Events have shaken lives up like never before.

From the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the continual fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis throughout Europe – it feels like one knock after the other.

And yet, we can’t afford to lose focus on gender equality – especially when it is most under threat during times of crises.

And while we might be winding down as the year comes to a close, it’s been an exceptionally busy time for the women and men in Europe – particularly those with children.

In today's Europe, there are many lived realities. Many households need more than one income - think of the pressures on single parents, who by way of not having the means for childcare, face limited opportunities to develop their careers. In our 2022 Gender Equality Index, an annual barometer measuring the state of gender equality in Europe, we included a survey which focused on care in the pandemic.

While more men stepped up and used flexitime to provide care in the pandemic, we saw more women pushed out of the workforce. A third of them mentioned care as the main reason.

At the same time however, we saw that 21% of carers of children under the age of 12 share childcare equally with their partner – which results in an equal financial contribution to the household income.

In turn, when childcare is shared more equally, it makes everyone happier, according to the survey.

But still, there are gendered differences in the way women and men use their time.

This year, EIGE conducted a survey on the gender gaps in unpaid care, individual and social activities. This time, it was not against the parameters of the pandemic.

I’ll share a few interesting findings ahead of the full release of the results next year.

One third of Europeans provide informal childcare And that means either their own children or their nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

And between women and men – women are much more likely than men to be involved in childcare throughout the day - from the crack of dawn through to bedtime.  

No wonder more women than men find it extra challenging to combine work with their care responsibilities, as indicated by our survey.  

It’s not a time management issue nor an inability to compartmentalize. It’s that there are not enough hours in the day for the sheer number of tasks to get through.

Now that the Commission introduced the European Care Strategy, we have had the time to reflect on how it will benefit everyone. Because not only did the strategy acknowledge the structural weakness in the current care systems in Europe, it based its reforms on the lived experiences of today.

It promises high quality, accessible and affordable care services for children and people who need long-term care.

Which, in turn, will help to strengthen gender equality and social fairness.

No one is claiming it will solve everything. But it’s a start on dismantling ingrained attitudes towards who is in charge of care. And creating flexibility and choices.

The care strategy is a good starting point by the Commission. For example, on my country visit to Spain, my discussions with policymakers on balancing care responsibilities more equally between women and men was high on the agenda because the care strategy is an engine for economic growth.

Adopting the care strategy means we will adapt to the demands of the world we are living in.

Thank you for your attention.