Sustainable development goals and gender equality: a matter for Europe

The European confederation of family organisations, COFACE, has organised a conference on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Amsterdam in April 2016. The SDGs, adopted at United Nations level, indicate goals and targets on social, environmental and economic issues, to be reached by 2030.

Recognition of ‘Unpaid care’ in the SDGs

The novelty of the SDGs is that they also include industrialised countries in the attainment of the target. The conference focussed on the European contribution to target 5 on gender equality. Ms Renata Kaczmarska from the UN Focal Point on the Family highlighted the targets contained in this goal: end all forms of discrimination against all women; eliminate forms of violence and harmful practices; recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work by providing public services, social protection and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household, ensure women’s participation in leadership and decision-making etc.

The SDGs, a critical assessment

Jan Vandemoortele, a researcher who has worked with UNICEF and UNDP on both the Millennium Development Goals and the SDGs explained the framework of the new goals. It comprises 17 goas, broken down into 169 sub-targets and 231 indicators. He very critically assessed the framework: many targets are imprecise or miss the point. One example Mr Vandemoortele quotes is an indicator on reducing inequalities: it focusses on achieving higher income growth for the bottom 40% than national average – this target however does not look at society and wealth distribution as a whole, and therefore focusses on poverty, not inequality. The poverty target includes to ‘reduce the proportion of people living in poverty according to national definitions’, which poses a risk of re-defining poverty to fit the target. Mr Vandemoortele called for a precise definition of eventual European and national targets to avoid the traps that have hindered the full attainment of the earlier Millennium Development Goals, and to follow up on the on-going definition of indicators.

Policies shaping gender roles in care

Ms Pearl Dykstra from Erasmus University Rotterdam presented results from her research and from the EU project ‘Families and Societies’. She explained how public services and legislation shape gender roles either explicitly, e.g. by legal requirements to care for one’s relatives, or implicitly by the availability or absence of formal child- and long-term care facilities. The shared the positive evaluations that have been made in Sweden of the ‘daddy quota’, a provision that reserves part of parental leave to fathers.

European action on the balance between care and professional life

Manuela Geleng, Director in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment and Social Affairrs, highlighted the recent initiative on improving the balance between work and family life. She announced that the Commission will start a second-stage consultation of social partners before the summer, in order to explore legislative and non-legislative action in the field of reconciliation. It is part of this package to think about the possibility of care leaves, but also about increased investments in child care and long-term care services.

AGE Platform Europe calling for a carers leave and investments in formal care

AGE Platform Europe attended the conference to highlight the challenges for reconciliation of work and family life by older women, who often take on care responsibilities and drop out of the labour market. AGE’s position is that carers should be supported by flexible leave provisions that allow them to reduce their working time and cater for their relatives. At the same time, formal care structures should be stepped up to provide accessible, affordable quality care services, and to support informal carers by training, peer exchanges and respite care facilities.

Second-stage consultation of social partners to be launched soon

The European Commission has proposed a roadmap on the reconciliation of work and family life in Summer 2015, prefiguring legislative and non-legislative action in this domain. A first public consultation and a first-stage consultation of social partners have been conducted in winter and spring 2016. The following weeks, a second-stage legislation with more specific proposals is expected to be published by the European Commission.

Further links:

Website of the Conference by COFACE, including presentations, videos and photos
AGE Platform Europe: Paper on carer’s leave and reconciling work and family life for older workers
UN Website on the Sustainable Development Goals
Better reconciliation of work and family life: COFACE publishes policy package, 2015

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