EWL News

Swedish study on family policy: is the champion for gender equality diming?

(Brussels, 19 September, 2013) A Swedish study presented at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Brussels early this month discusses the past, present and future changes in Family Policy in Sweden. Long seen as a lighthouse for gender equality and care policies, the much praised earner- carer model is undergoing some changes and the longterm effects remain to be seen.

The EWL’s Mary Collins, socio-economic policy officer, finds changes to this model alarming. The earner-carer model where both parents are encouraged to participate in paid work and share unpaid work is one that the EWL supports and advocates in order to reach a holistic and lifecycle approach to care, and has shown to be the strongest in terms of gender equality.

Highlights of the presentation included past reforms that reinforced the Swedish earner carer model. These included; parental insurance which extended the length and increased individualization of leave for fathers, public daycare that ensured 4 out of 5 children aged 0-3 were in daycare, abolition of joint taxation in 1971 that was fully individualized by 1992.

Recent changes have been made that add ’layers’ to the model without changing much of the pre-existing policy, leaving an air of uncertainty about what kind of outcomes and for whom.

While care refers here to child care, elder care is a growing issue as well. Currently, following the cuts to public sector jobs across Europe that employed up to 40% women, many are financially forced to stay at home to compensate for the cuts to the services that their families depend on, especially care.

When it comes to family policy across Europe, there is no unified response or approach; the EU has no ’competence’ in family policy as such. However macro economics strongly influence the family experience and over the past 3 years of the Europe 2020 strategic governance, a clear vision emerges as to how women are perceived:

  • childcare is targeted at women and misses men completely
  • gender neutral language hides Gender Equality issues
  • women continue to be seen as dependent on either their partner or the state

Currently, varying possibilities and combinations of care credits and parental leave exist. The argument for choice in terms of how to best ’solve’ the care crunch, either by outsourcing caring tasks to kin or private services risks individualizing choice and ignoring collective needs, not to mention enforcing a polarizing effect between women and class. Choice puts the ownace of care on individuals, however care is a societal issue. We must remove the stereotypes about men’s dedication to work taking a back seat to parenting and make room for them in our care models as well.

Policy makers are thus confronted with trade-offs: short term goals to improve parent’s choice capacity often collide with long term interests to increase gender equality. The challenges ahead deal with the uncertainty of outcomes of recent changes to the earner carer model in Sweden.

The presentation closed with a focus on the life course perspective as central. The choice between supporting mother’s care work or employment affects labour market careers and women’s poverty risks in old age.
The full effects or the earner carer policy remain to be seen.

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