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Gender equality and work-life balance policies during and after the COVID-19 crisis

This EU document suggests that unpaid care duties are key to gender gaps in the labour market. As illustrated in the report, across the Member States, care responsibilities are equally shared between women and men only in about one-third of families. The interplay between labour market and household conditions may create vicious cycles. The unequal division of unpaid care work between men and women reduces women’s access to and permanency in the labour market, and leads to a concentration of women in sectors and jobs allowing greater working time flexibility at the price of lower wages and career opportunities. Gender gaps in the labour market themselves reinforce the unequal division of unpaid care

work in households.

Work-life balance policies are therefore key for supporting women’s labour market participation and employment and achieving gender equality in the labour market. Although cultural and social norms on the gender division of unpaid work in the household are still relevant, the availability, affordability and quality of childcare and long-term care services, eligibility criteria, length and compensation level of parental, paternity and carers leaves, and flexible working arrangements all play an important role in promoting equal sharing of care tasks in the household enabling full and equal labour market participation.

The report discusses how legal entitlement to childcare and compulsory attendance are important elements to support the move towards using childcare services and therefore a broader provision of childcare facilities and easier access to them. They also contribute to the shift in cultural perceptions and norms towards increased acceptability of mothers returning to the labour market. However, the legal entitlement to childcare exists only in few Member States and is often only available to older children.

It suggests that the pandemic has put considerable strain on the work-life balance of men and, particularly women with caring responsibilities due to restrictions on formal and informal care and education services combined with confinement and telework from home. Single mothers and women working in essential jobs faced the strongest work-life balance pressures.

The report presents home-care related policy responses to COVID-19 and the potential or actual impact they had on work-life balance provisions and consequently on gender equality, compared to relevant policies before the pandemic. The purpose of the review is to support the European Semester through up-to-date analysis at Member State (MS) level on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on gender inequality through policy and employers’ actions.

The overview of national legislation and other measures relating to work-life balance (family leaves and flexible working) in this report is without prejudice to the outcome of the European Commission’s verification of the completeness and correctness of Member States’ transposition of Directive (EU) 2019/1158 on work-life balance for parents and carers into national law. Data herein are mainly drawn from evidence on responses by various actors (governments, social partners, companies) to the crisis regarding gender equality and work-life balance in the EU-27, plus published comparative and country-specific evidence.

European Commission January 2023

Below for the full document:

Gender equality and work-life balance policies during and after the COVID-19 crisis
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