Work-life balance: you can!

wlbyoucanThis is the title of the book launched in the European Parliament on 27 January, in an event hosted by MEP Elena Gentile and MEP Patrizia Toia. The book gathers successful experiences of work-life balance from the Province of Trento (Italy) and is included in a wider framework of policies to support the reconciliation of work and family life that Trento is implementing. Luciano Malfer, Head of the Provincial Agency for Family Policies, presented the results of the action that are implemented in a systematic and coherent way across the policy spectrum, in order to support the different needs of families. Interesting to note that this actions are included within the local economic development framework and not as social policies, since, as Malfer said: “all policies supporting families and communities becomes automatically policies that boost local development”.

Some of the initiative from the Trento Province are also included in the European Reconciliation Package that COFACE launched in 2015 and among the Good practices on Reconciliation of Work and Family Life collected by EIGE – European Institute for Gender Equality, in 2014. Paola Panzeri, representing COFACE, underlined the importance of coherent measures to support families all along the life-cycle and that could respond to the different needs of families that may differ for each family and according to the specific moment. This is why it is important to have not only a good policies but a comprehensive and coherent framework that could work as a safety net on which families can rely according to their current needs, from childcare to elderly care, need for flexible employment or a period of leave.

More: Press release (in Italian)

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Please mark your calendars! SDGs and Gender Equality conference is coming!

SDG COFACE Banner Save the Date

First of all let me wish you a bright and fruitful New Year. For COFACE, 2016 will be dedicated to “New policies for 21st century families”. We will be dealing with exciting topics this year such as financial inclusion, SDGs and gender equality, work-life balance, the future of work and new ways of consumption. We hope to meet many of you at the different events that we will organize!

Our first big event of the year will be the International Conference on Sustainable Development Goals and Gender Equality: the role of family policies and exchange of good practices”.

The conference is organized in close cooperation with the UN Focal Point on the Family (Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs). It will put a spotlight on the role of family policies in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and specifically engage in one of the most important and holistic targets of the SDGs: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (Goal 5).

SDG5 banner

The conference aims to provide a platform for exchange on good practices in family policies and practical solutions. We will not only look at how such horizontal policy transfer and exchange can happen, but the event will also foster future exchange and partnerships.

The conference will be organised on 19-20 April 2016 in Amsterdam, during the Dutch EU Presidency and the Informal Meeting of the EPSCO Council.

For more detailed information, please go to our website

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COFACE-Disability observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

by Ana Pérez

Today is the International Day of persons with disabilities. COFACE, jointly with COFACE-Disability would like to take this opportunity to draw the attention to the challenges and barriers that still exist for people living with disabilities and their families, to live life to the full and enjoy their rights to participation, education and inclusion.

Banner COFACE-Disability-COFACECOFACE and COFACE-Disability have been advocating for many years in favour of changing the way we think about people with disabilities and their families and for the recognition of the status of family carer. We believe that recognising the role of family carers is a fundamental step to ameliorate their quality of life, enabling them to participate more actively in society and the labour market. We also need to find solution to stop the isolation that many families and family members are experiencing.

According to the United Nations, over one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. In the EU, one in six people, around 80 million, have a disability. Over one third of people aged over 75 have some form of disability and these numbers are meant to grow with the aging of the population in the EU.

The European Commission proposed yesterday a European Accessibility Act, which will set common accessibility requirements for certain key products and services that will help people with disabilities at EU level to participate fully in society. We sincerely welcome the efforts of the European Commission for this long awaited directive and would like to congratulate in particular Commissioner Thyssen.

People with disabilities and their families still face a large number of barriers and are at a higher risk of discrimination and social exclusion. We sincerely hope that thanks to this piece of legislation we will be now going in the good direction.

Read more about the European Accessibility Act
Find out more information about COFACE and COFACE-Disability

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

by Ana Pérez

Orange

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


Find out more about COFACE on our website www.coface-eu.org and sign up to receive our news. Find us also on Facebook and Twitter

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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.

Find out more about COFACE on our website www.coface-eu.org and sign up to receive our news. Find us also on Facebook and Twitter

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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 here

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