Communiqué, issue 6, 2004

Special Foundation Forum 2004


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Families are struggling to cope with the conflicting demands of policies, designed to enable Member States to hit the targets outlined in the Lisbon Strategy. One of the core problems, members of the workshop concluded, is that policymakers want more women to enter the labour market, while at the same time they expect them to have more children, to stem Europe’s population decline.

Theoretically, it was outlined in the workshop, it should be possible to reconcile these two ostensibly conflicting goals with measures such as parental leave and flexible working arrangements that enable both parents to share childcare and household responsibilities. The reality, however, is that men are not always willing to take part in childcare and household duties. Very few men take parental leave, for example, and an equally small proportion share in the housework: according to the Foundation’s European Quality of Life Survey, only 12% of men do an hour or more of housework each day, compared to 63% of women.

'Flexible working arrangements can help parents juggle the demands of working and looking after a young family, but unless they are taken up by fathers as well, they reinforce the traditional gender stereotype of the mother as the homemaker'.

‘The absence of suitable solutions to this problem, coupled with the paucity of affordable childcare, is likely to exacerbate Europe’s population difficulties,’ another participant commented.

‘Women will continue to reduce their fertility to avoid children interfering with their employment, unless the State provides affordable, good quality alternatives to family care, and ensures that leave and working arrangements do not disadvantage women with young children,’ they added.

The workshop concluded that the diversity of the EU does not allow for a one-size-fits-all solution. Account has to be taken, for example, of the historical legacy of welfare regimes in different countries.

Overall, members of the workshop agreed, Member States need to take a more holistic and coordinated approach to policy development, where the voices of families are listened to, and where their changing situations and needs are recognised.

Workshop 2 key issues

  • According to the Foundation’s Survey on Working and Living Conditions, only 12% of men do an hour or more of housework each day, compared to 63% of women.
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