Work-life balance ‘does not work for women’

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Even in advanced economies, women are bearing the brunt of a lack of work-life balance, a panel at the Employment Week event found.

A panel on work-life balance at the Brussels Employment Week event on 6 June 2007 brought together Nitzelius, deputy director at Sweden’s Ministry of Employment and two experts working for the UN Development Programme’s gender equality project in Poland.

In Sweden, in spite of all the gender-mainstreaming activities, women have a much harder time balancing work and leisure time than men, Nitzelius said. Parental leave of up to 480 days per child and parental benefits of 80% of the last income, pre-school and family day-care still leave women with most of the unpaid childcare and household work, she pointed out.

“What is work-life-balance?” Nitzelius asked, adding: “There is only a life balance.”

Even though they are gender-neutral, just 19.5% of parental cash-benefit days in Sweden are taken by men – reason enough for the government to plan measures such as gender-equality bonuses, tax deductions if the parent with higher income stays home and tax reductions on purchases of domestic services.

However, in Poland, such measures are far from becoming reality, Marta Rawluszko and Paulina Kazmarek of the UNDP Gender Index pointed out. Only women are entitled to parental leave, and fathers’ involvement in early-age childcare is completely absent, they added. Using a good-practice guidebook, information, workshops, social campaigns and regional debates, the UNDP programme targets mainly companies, which tend to be much more open to gender issues once they understand that they are connected to their business interests.

For instance, in reaction to widespread labour shortage, many bigger companies seriously consider opening kindergartens in the proximity of their office or production sites, in order to attract female workers. Tight regulations in Polish law make the opening of such institutions suject to difficult legal proceedings – an administrative barrier to work-life balance that the UNDP project seeks to remove.

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