Organised by the Spanish Ministry of Equality, EIGE’s Director Carlien Scheele attended the International feminist meeting ‘We Call It Feminism: Feminism for a better world’ on 25 February addressing new ways to revolutionise the care system.
Good afternoon to you all.
It’s wonderful to be here among such a diverse community of experts from around the world.
It’s my pleasure to contribute to an important discussion for gender equality with EIGE’s evidence.
But also, with personal experience.
Because behind the research are the lived realities.
And if we want see change – or to start a revolution on care in this case – we have to get personal.
So, let’s bring it home. We need to talk about unpaid care.
Because the reality is just not working out - for anyone. And it hasn’t for a while.
What does unpaid care mean? It’s looking after children – from getting them ready for school, to putting them to bed at night. And a lot in between.
It’s also taking care of an elderly relative or a member of the household who has a disability– who might just be living at home with you and requires round the clock assistance.
And unpaid care also means household work.
In the fragile context of the pandemic, all these forms of unpaid care intensified while external support crumbled.
We also know that more women than men have been confronting increasing care demands – from the pandemic and beyond.
Honestly, we didn’t need the pandemic to tell us what we already know about the relationship between women and care.
But, what our evidence has told us, is that the time to revolutionise deep-seated attitudes on unpaid care and allocate resources more efficiently - is now.
I’ll start by giving you the main takeaway from EIGE’s thematic focus from the 2022 Gender Equality Index on COVID-19 and Care.
Women are twice as likely as men to provide the bulk of care for children under 12 years old.
In other words, women dedicate their time more and face vulnerable situations with foregone earnings, a lack of social security and impacted pensions for the future.
We have built on this research with a new and more detailed survey aiming to identify the gender gaps in unpaid care, individual and social activities.
There should have been some behavioural change in care in a post pandemic world – especially because this was a topic that caught headlines as a major issue then. But it turns out, not much has changed.
In 2022 in the EU, 40% of women and 21% of men spend more than 5 hours per day on providing informal childcare to their own children.
Beyond the knowledge we gained through our research, we brought this topic to life in conversation with multiple and diverse actors in the gender equality community during EIGE’S Gender Equality Forum in October last year.
We had a session focused on care where representatives from Member States weighed in on their own experiences and findings. Overall, it was stressed that workplaces need to empower both women and men to use flexible work for family responsibilities – so if a child needs to be picked up at 4pm, they can be picked up at 4pm without fearing it would jeopardize a chance for promotion – and this goes especially to men who often face ‘punishment’ from managers for needing to be a father in the middle of the working day.
With that, we also discussed overturning social expectations.
For this, we need to start young.
We need pay better attention to children’s emotional and social skills - especially boys - from kindergarten on helping develop caring skills both in their private life and in their career choices.
Vice President Frans Timmerman shared this exact sentiment in his #3StepsForward for gender equality at the start of the year. He said, we need to raise our children for equality.
But there are some hardened gender perceptions getting in the way of that right now.
Women are seen as care givers. Men are naturally seen as providers.
Those are two very singular and rigid roles – which are incompatible with today’s world.
For example - we need to normalise men as equal carers at home as much as we normalise them in the workplace. This will transform not only our wellbeing, the wellbeing of our children but also the world of work, bringing new opportunities to all.
Because we are more than one thing in this life.
I am a mother, a daughter, a sister and EIGE’s Director.
I am a blend of all these things. They are not mutually exclusive from each other. And they shouldn’t have to be.
Speaking of flexibility – perhaps it’s time we embrace a word like parenthood in the context of care – a word which inherently removes expectations defined by gender and implies a shared responsibility.
We are stronger when we are in it together. In fact, our survey from the pandemic told us this quite plainly: When childcare is shared equally between partners, both women (70%) and men (73%) report higher satisfaction rates.
But it’s not just the internal support system we have to examine – it’s also about having access to affordable and reliable external support.
In fact, this is one of the biggest barriers to women’s workforce participation. Then we miss out on the best educated women in Europe. And that’s a handbrake on growth.
Last year, I visited Spain on a country visit. My first observations were how active Spain’s gender equality policies are – their place at number 6 in EIGE’s Gender Equality Index proves progress is not just a pipedream.
The recent bill on paid menstrual leave is a testament to that.
Futher from that, my discussions on the state of care with Irene Montero, the Minister of Equality and Antonia Morillas, the Director of the Instituto de las Mujeres, echoed a lot of what I am saying here. Like the fact that the assumption of care work by women continues to penalise us in all areas of our lives and especially in the workplace.
With the European Green Deal at play, we are moving towards a green and digital society.
This needs innovation and innovation needs women.
It’s the European Year of Skills. All the more reason to give women and - everyone for that matter - the chance to seek knowledge and develop much needed skills – for any field which supports our societies and economies to function better. Like the care field – who's to say it doesn’t have the potential to be attractive for everyone to participate in? But we cannot free up these possibilities for everyone until infrastructure is put in place. Because right now, too many people are pushing against a closed door.
But now, a door has been opened, letting in some much-needed fresh air.
The proposed European Care Strategy for quality, affordable, and accessible care services is about creating an environment that is equitable for everyone – from single parents to parents with three kids and any kind of set up.
So that everyone has the opportunity to customize their life in a way that works for them, where they can participate in the economy, they can take part in self-development activities and also have the time doing whatever else they love.
Revolutionising care means accepting the many layers of our lives – we should be allowed to be more than one thing.
It is our right.