Domestic violence: How does it affect workplaces and access to work?

by Ana Pérez


25 November: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Linking domestic violence and working life is arguably counterintuitive. An initial reaction is that violence is about people’s relationships and should not impinge on work. Arguably too, co-workers, employers and trade union representatives are not “social workers” and have no business getting involved in such things. Victims’ stories, however, show that violence has severely affected their working lives. Like it or not, there is clear evidence that domestic violence does intrude into work and vocational integration.

Domestic violence has a big impact on victims’ working lives – it stops them doing or finding a job. Yet keeping or getting a job is vital to them. Not just for obvious reasons of financial independence, but also because the work community is often the first place where victims can find a listening ear and informal support.

Domestic violence also affects and incurs a high cost for victims’ employers and co-workers through lost productivity, resignations, replacements, extended absences and sick leave, harassment by partners at workplaces or training sites, putting co-workers in danger and under stress.

Victims who are listened to, get support and adapted working and vocational integration arrangements can take more timely action to keep themselves and their children safe.

Three interconnecting approaches can help victims keep their jobs or complete a careers guidance, training or vocational integration process:

1/ Prevention through awareness-raising in companies to make the different aspects of violence and how they operate better known, to unpick entrenched public stereotypes. Victims feel shame, and will often not describe what they are enduring as “violence”. The message must be got over that “violence is a serious violation of fundamental human rights”. There is no excuse for it, the victim is not to blame.

2/ Help from link workers who are trained to spot violence, can listen to the victim -and the abuser- and support them in accessing specialized provision.

3/ Identifying ways of addressing the different practical problems encountered in workplace and vocational integration sites, such as taking safety precautions, adjusting working hours if necessary, screening phone calls, ensuring that co-workers keep an eye out.

Finally, national laws and collective agreements (if any) must ensure that victims are protected and not penalized by losing their job, and can have the time off work needed to take the necessary action to bring an end to the abuse.

This assessment and these assumptions provided the basis for work done by COFACE a few years ago, in partnership with 4 member organisations from Belgium, Greece, Spain and Bulgaria and a Belgian Trade Union, under the framework of the EU’s Daphne III programme.

More information about the project, please click here

More about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

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COFACE event on transnational families aims at breaking gender and ethnic stereotypes and taboos!

5-6 November 2015 | Families Beyond Borders conference in Sofia, Bulgaria

© Ana Perez
Participants of the training “Designing and implementing your advocacy campaign for transnational families” | Photo © 2015 Ana Pérez

On the 5-6 November 2015, COFACE, the Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU and the Bulgarian Center of Women’s Studies and Policies, organized the “Families Beyond Borders” conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. The 2-day event, focused on transnational families, aimed at exploring challenges and consequences of what it means to move to a different country for better economic prospects, but leaving ageing parents and sometimes young children in their countries of origin.

Economic migration is not a new phenomenon but, while studies and policies are focussed on the person who move, little attention is paid to those family members who stay in the country of origin and the impact that the migration process has on the family has a whole. The departure of a family member is always a difficult decision and sometimes a last resort for families living in poverty. The profile of economic migrants in some areas is changing, bringing changes also on roles within the family: more and more women move to become care workers abroad and become the family breadwinners.

The event was a great opportunity to foster exchange between researches, experts and policy makers from all around Europe to raise awareness of the difficulties that transnational families go through.

On November the 5th, a training “Designing and implementing your advocacy campaign for transnational families” was organized, followed by a networking dinner and the film projection “The town of Badante women”.

The training aimed at identifying needs and objectives, target groups and best tools. Participants worked in smaller groups to develop its own campaign idea and received feedbacks from other groups and trainers. The training was organized by Paola Panzeri from COFACE.

The film presented the Bulgarian city of Varshets, where the unemployment rate is extremely high. For many families, the only solution is to take the decision (this concerns only women) to go to Italy and work as “badanti” (caregivers for old people). These women leave planning to stay a short period but they often end up staying much longer. In the meantime, in Varshets also men’s lifestyles are changing: they deal with housework and find strategies of mutual aid, while waiting for their wives’ money that arrive once a month, and for their wives who come home more and more seldom. The film, very touching, was followed by a question-answers session with Diana Ivanova, film screenplay writer.

The actual number of migrant careworkers is unknown but their number is far higher than the workers in the formal care sector. We discussed at the event about the effects of the “care drain” in the country of origin and the consequences it has on children and family members left behind. The children are left behind to the care of other family members. Sometimes other women are employed to care for the children .Those women may also be a mother and have left her children behind to care for someone else (a “global care chain”). This is a highly relevant topic in the context of our ageing population in Europe.

On November the 6th, the European conference “Families beyond borders – What is the impact of migration on families?” took place, including a poster presentation.

The conference explored a variety of aspects of transnational families through three workshops:

1 Labour migration and transnational family life
Family members can live apart temporarily or for very long periods and their family life is very much conditioned on the possibility to visit each other and going back to the country of origin.

2 Brain-drain, emigration and family formation
Mobile workers are massively leaving countries with economic difficulties to find opportunities in other EU member States. Mobility is often the last resort more than a career choice.

3 Migrant carers and global care-chain
A large share of the care work which is externalised outside the family is covered by the employment of migrants, often migrant women.

A poster presentation session was organized during the lunch time with the participation of associations from different countries.

A detailed report from the conference will be available in the following days. In the meantime you can check the speakers’ presentations and pictures of the event on COFACE’s website

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The impact of the economic crisis on families

by Ana Pérez

Families are being hard hit by the crisis through rising unemployment, falling purchasing power, increasing debt, poverty and social exclusion. Families are indeed victims of the crisis, but they are also among the essential acting stakeholders towards necessary changes.

As you know, the annual work theme for COFACE in 2014 was “Reconciling Work and Family Life in Europe”. Even though we remain very active in this field, this year, COFACE has put the spot on the “Families in a vulnerable situation”.

The European conference “Accessible and fair financial services: alternatives to mainstream banking” that we organized last May in Madrid was a milestone in this thematic year. The conference explored a variety of aspects of financial inclusion and explored the question of how alternative banking could contribute to ensure access to fair and quality financial services for all families. More information about the conference here.

On this topic, we have also produced a video that shows why financial inclusion is so important for families, giving a few practical examples of how civil society organizations and better policies can secure financial inclusion for all. Watch the video here.

And finally, we are currently working on a compendium of best practices on fair, sustainable and inclusive financial services. The document will be released in December.

Another initiative related to this thematic year on families in a vulnerable situation, was the roundtable “Two-generation Early Childhood Education and Care programmes”. At the roundtable we disussed the recent ECEC related policy developments and programmes facilitating the entry (or re-entry) of women (especially those long-term unemployed) to the labour market. More information about this roundtable here.

The current economic crisis is already having long term implications on the well-being of families in the European Union. Due to the additional impact of austerity measures, millions of families are challenged in ways that will cause major negative effects to their lives, of their ageing relatives and of their children, and indeed, the future of Europe’s younger generations is at stake.

This crisis is increasingly putting at risk the basic needs of families in terms of financial resources, availability of quality services and provision of adequate time arrangements. Unfortunately, poverty and social exclusion of families will continue to rise. All Member States are concerned, but some are harder hit than others.

It is clearly visible that the effects of the longstanding economic crisis and budgetary cuts are especially felt by families with low income. The most vulnerable families such as single-parent families, large families, families with young children and/or dependent relatives and migrant families are most likely to meet difficulties in the fulfilment of their role as educators and carers.

The support of targeted economic growth together with a fairer redistribution of wealth, accompanying specific measures aiming the most vulnerable, are complementary measures that will see all families and especially the most vulnerable through the crisis.

According to Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Social Justice Index 2015, in the EU, some 26 million children and young people are threatened by poverty or social exclusion. The social justice gap in Europe runs most strongly between north and south and between young and old. To read the principal findings of the Social Justice Index 2015, please click here.

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We are stuck on gender equality, so let’s change the game!

On the 21st October, the European Women’s Lobby organised a very interesting event in the European Parliament, hosted by MEP Catherine Bearder, on advancing gender equality in business.

Even though it was great to be listening to the panellists either recount personal experiences or company practices on the issue, and to hear that the reconciliation of work and family life is still a major issue (as we have been saying for many years), the mood was rather that of  puzzlement: what are we still doing wrong?

The timeliness of the conference is evident, as unfortunately Europe started to stagnate, or even decline in some of the gender indicators. In Europe only 3% of CEOs are women, they are clearly underrepresented in the decision making bodies in business – hence the discussion on the quotas for Women on Corporate Boards, either in general, or on publicly listed companies.

Several aspects are contributing to the frustration. On the one hand, there is very compelling evidence out there, that a more diverse workforce, and a balanced decision making body composed in equal parts of women and men make total business sense.

gender pyramidEven in sectors, where the majority of employees are women (healthcare, education, social services), there is a gender pyramid (as shown in this figure illustrating the US workforce), the higher we advance in the hierarchy, the less women are there. Only 10% of female top-managers in the healthcare sector.

It was also staggering to hear about France, where the gender paygap is very small, yet in senior management positions women still earn 30% less than their male counterparts. Why is that? Because at these high levels of corporate decision making, salaries, bonuses, perks and benefits are negotiated at individual levels. So as soon as we move from middle-management to top-management, the paygap opens again. Women perhaps value time over money, and are much more likely to negotiate their working hours and time in general, than their male colleagues.

Unfortunately, even civil society and international organisations haven’t quite mastered equality, with women only making up 30% of the directors and CEOs.

What next? It is clear, that we need to be more creative and find some new entry ways to advance women in decision making. But nothing will happen, unless we change the game, unless we change the structures and the framework that govern these posts and jobs. Especially in global companies, the toll on managers’ time is very heavy, managing and meetings between time-zones, a lot of travel and claim for time, way, way beyond the 9-to-5.

It is clear, that unless we change these extremely gendered workplace norms, and make it more accommodating to women, they won’t take that next promotion or opportunity, because the trade-off is simply too big. Nobody wants to choose between work, family, or life. We want them all. Just not one at the expense of the others.

What next? The European Commission launched the Fresh start initiative, which promises a fresh look at what is already out there, and how to advance even further.

We have published our European Reconciliation Package in March, and the recommendations and examples still hold true.

And of course, we want to hear from you, and get your ideas, what will make it easier for women to have both fulfilling careers and satisfying family and private lives? Over to you!

More information about the EWL event is here:

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How to achieve better outcomes from both early childhood and activation programmes?

ECECFor a few decades now governments have invested large amounts of funding (not least from the European Social Fund) to lift people out of poverty via education, starting in early childhood. A number of projects and programmes are currently funded that provide quality early childhood education to children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. In paralell, there are also a number of programmes that help adults, especially women to acquire new skills and competences offering opportunities to finding and keeping a job. Often however, we miss the bigger picture, that these programmes would make much more sense, if they would go hand-in-hand.

We know of a number of “accidental two-generation projects”, in which mothers would have been unable to attend the courses they signed up for without childcare, so the labour office or municipality had to improvise childcare for the children of the beneficieries. Or the other way round, a number of Sure Start centres have experimented with involving more the parents of Roma children, and offering them parenting support and even teaching them some basic skills, to enhance their chances for finding employment.

We at COFACE believe that it is time to move on, and start thinking in a much more systemic or integrated way, and plan for and implement deliberate, quality and accessible two-generation programmes, that will both fulfill the obligations on early childhood education and care targets, and also help women’s employment across Europe.

Therefore, COFACE and Eurofound are organising the roundtable “Two-generation Early Childhood Education and Care programmes” on September 23rd (from 9:00 to 13:00) in Brussels. The aim of this roundtable is to highlight two-generation programmes that consider early childhood education centres as platforms for attracting parents into education and training.

Why are two-generation programmes relevant?

Two-generation programmes focus on policies, services and practices that create opportunities for and address the needs of both vulnerable parents and children together.

For children, two-generation programmes can include health and education services, such as early childhood education, and services. For parents, it can be parenting, language courses, educational and training programmes etc.

The objective of a two-generation programme is to build human and social capital across generations by combining education or job training for adults with early childhood education for their children.

In addition to providing quality, affordable and accessible childcare these programmes, as integrated part of active labour market polices, could provide alternative to Europe’s pressing socio-economic problems such as the high level of unemployment by targeting vulnerable groups such as parents with young children, low-skilled workers, long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, etc.

In today’s economic and social climate, in particular high level of young unemployed and long-term unemployed at the EU labour market, two-generation programmes should place a high priority on preparing parents for jobs and providing with them up-to-date skills and knowledge that will advance them in finding quality employment. In parallel, programmes must be designed to reply to the high level of skills mismatches.

With this seminar, by showcasing inspiring examples and introducing the latest ECEC related EU level policy developments, COFACE and Eurofound aim to project how two-generation programmes could strategically contribute to helping parents stay in job trainings, and enhancing their success in finding employment.

More information | Register to this event

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European Commission publishes Roadmap to address challenges of work-life balance faced by working families

by Agnes Uhereczky, COFACE Director

The thing about social change is that most of the time it happens slowly, gradually, away from the limelight. Media usually laps up dramatic change, like the Fall of the Berlin Wall or 1 billion users on Facebook. Gradual social change usually is only visible, when there is a tipping point, like the one we are experiencing with the refugee situation in Europe and globally.

Another social change is going on however, and this is only partly mediatised. The change in family forms, and how families live their lives, and in parallel the changing world of work. The majority of countries have left behind the single male-breadwinner model, and in most families both parents are working.

These changes mean that a number of structures and policies we have in place now are becoming redundant, outdated or even hindering progress. And as the policies and legislation are not keeping up with what is happening in the real world, they can be used to the benefit of business and to the detriment of workers.

This Blog entry aims to draw attention to some of these important changes, and to make the link with the Roadmap of the European Commission, published in August 2015 to address the challenges of work-life balance, faced by working families.


The Roadmap follows the Press statement of Commissioner Thyssen on the 17th July, after the informal EPSCO Council meeting. Commissioner Thyssen also stressed the importance of better policies and regulation in favour of a better reconciliation of work and family and private life and care.

Both the press-statement and the Commission Roadmap are framing the issue of work-life balance in women’s participation on the labour market. Even in our European Reconciliation Package we point to the risks of presenting the matter purely as a “mommy-issue”. There are a variety of important undercurrents, which are fundamentally transforming the way we work and the way we live and consume, and if the European Commission is aiming for a really progressive proposal that will stand the test of time, it needs to look beyond the replacement of the scrapped Maternity Leave Directive and address these shifting tectonic plates.

What is at the root of all this? Europe is grappling with a huge productivity crisis and old structures are not serving the quest for perpetual growth anyomore. Think of it as a balloon being filled with water, but eventually the balloon is developing some cracks, which start leaking and become holes where water is already seeping through, and eventually, the balloon will burst.

The labour to productivity ratio is worsening. Parts of the labour intensive work has been outsourced to China or Bangladesh, with the arrival of robots, artificial intelligence and digital tools, other low-intensity work is also disappearing. An estimated 40% of current jobs (mainly low-skilled) are forecast to disappear by 2020. This will also concern translators, interpreters, doctors, accountants. Anything that is a repetitive task, smart machines will overtake. What will remain for us humans are the difficult parts of any job, the one that requires us to be human and negotiate, navigate complex information flows, synthetise information and find innovative solutions.

So how will we squeeze more productivity out of our ageing workforce? On the one hand there are huge barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe, and thus hampering the new job-creation mechanisms. And many skilled women, who have completed tertiary education are not in the workforce. So they need to be brought back through Maternity leave legislation and childcare provision.

Then there is the issue of flexible work. We wholeheartedly support the introduction of flexible time and place for work – again, this can only happen for the highly skilled, who are participating in the global race for talent.

I read somewhere that as the young generation is very aware, that they won’t live as well as their parents’ generation, they are looking for maximising their quality of life in a different way. And this means that they are looking for jobs, where they can have the flexibility to take care of their families, to have hobbies and to participate actively in their communities.

Flexible work can be interpreted in a variety of ways, yet very recent data is now emerging which shows, that employers are using flexibility to keep down pay and also restrict working hours, especially in the retail and service and even healthcare sectors. What we can see from recent data, is that employers are hiring from the already-employed segment, not from the unemployed. It means, that many people are multiplying part-time jobs to make ends meet. These data point to tightness in the labour market, and is bad news for the long-term unemployed. There is on the one end of the spectrum a great level of underwork (unemployed or bad quality part-time work), and on the other end of the spectrum overwork.ONS flex work

So the answer to both work-life balance and the rising unemployment may lie in a much better distribution of work.

Currently there is a clash of two ideologies, on the one hand thriving for full-employment, getting everybody into work, and on the other, fighting burnout, injuries, health implications of overwork, as well as advocating for time for family life, leisure, and wanting to be the good citizens we are: civic engagement and volunteering.

Work defines us and we are defined by work. But instead we should be defined by our whole lives. We need to challenge the very strict and very gendered professional norms that put pressure on both sexes equally. If the European Commission aims (very rightly) at enhancing the take up of paternity and parental leaves by fathers, then we need to look at the pressures on men at work to perform and be constantly ON, and also look at the gender segregation of the labour market, which in parts is responsible for the still pervasive gender pay-gap.

There is the culture of business and a very competitive environment. Consumerism has also created powerful influential forces in favour of long working hours. In addition to long working hours, often they are spent under very poor working conditions. There is a growing number of studies showing the human costs of longer working hours. These include lower physical and mental health. Working long hours can add to the risk of having a stroke, coronary heart disease and developing type 2 diabetes.

We need to challenge the counter-intuitive argument that longer working hours lead to higher productivity. This is not true, because we are speaking about humans (still) and not robots. Persistent overwork has serious impact on health and implication on productivity, due to absenteeism, high turnover rates (recruitment and training costs) and low employee engagement.

We congratulate the European Commission for the new initiative, which will unfold in 2016, and we are pledging our support with our knowledge, our network and our eagerness in helping Europe rethink the way we want to live, work and consume.

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A culture of “freedom and responsibility”

Blog post 2015.08.25 A culture of freedom and responsibility
by Ana Pérez

You have probably read this summer that Netflix, the American provider of Internet streaming media, has introduced an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences”, announced Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer.

Why this is so important in the U.S. context?

Working parents in the U.S. are faced with a difficult reality from the moment their babies are born. New mothers can take 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and taking a parental leave is unusual.

Keeping this situation in mind, we can conclude that Netflix is giving a revolutionary perk, with the company showing both current and potential employees how much it cares. The company suggests parents can come back to the office either part or full time, organizing their time as they wish during the first year. All paid of course.

Yahoo doubled its maternity and paternity leave in 2013 to make it more competitive with Facebook and Google. We are witnessing a shift in the working culture. Today, most workers would choose a better work-life balance over a salary rise. This is something that we have already noticed in the last years in Europe, and Netflix is following this trend. It’s a smart strategy: the company wants to keep the best talents on board.

I believe this is a fantastic initiative for at least, three reasons. First, it lowers gender discrimination in the recruitment process, where young women still face discrimination because of their potential motherhood and the role of primary carer they take later on. Second, it gives men a chance to get involved very early and actually frees up women to work and reducing the gender pay gap and subsequent gender pension gap. According to the Institute for Labor Market Policy in Sweden, a mother’s future earnings is increased by 7% every month the father stays on parental leave. And third, it also lowers the risk of poverty for the most vulnerable families such as single parents and large families.

Even though I applaud Netflix for this initiative for new parents, it is important to keep in mind that, as we have been advocating at COFACE, reconciliation policies should be available to all workers regardless of the age of their children, since families’ needs for flexibility do not end after the first year after a child’s birth or adoption. Young children and teens may also need the attention and time of their parents during major life transitions, for which no “leave” is generally foreseen, apart from the regular paid vacation. One possible solution could be to complement the temporary leaves for both parents with a system of flexible time arrangement allowing them to continue their professional activity.

We are witnessing today significant changes in the way we work, collaborate and communicate. And this is precisely why we need a paradigm shift at work, as well as a family-friendly legal and policy environment.

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