Reconciling care and work responsibilities is still a pending issue

by Ana Perez

Reconciliation and equality policies are key to guarantee co-responsibility in care work and housework. This is one of the conclusions of the course on new family forms and new values, recently organized by UNAF, the Union of Family Associations in Spain, as part of the Summer Courses of the Complutense University of Madrid.

Family picture of the participants of the course ofganised by UNAF, Spain

Participants of the course on new family forms organised by UNAF (Spain) on 7-8-9 July in Madrid

In recent years, families have been evolving from the traditional male breadwinner model into the dual-earner model or a single-earner model. Families are now more diverse. However, the lack of child and elderly care services, flexible working arrangements and the perpetuation of gender stereotypes create inequalities between men and women, and make it more difficult for some families, for example single-parent families or recomposed families.

Men and women should have the opportunity to be carers and earners in equal measure to help families relieve the tension between their professional and family lives.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and thus, a dedicated public policy is needed to help families reconcile work and family life. These reconciliation measures should be complemented with equality policies, to avoid women carrying most of the burden. This is the case for parental leave or leaves to care for a family member, which are mostly taken by women.

According to a recent survey on reconciling work and family in Spain, 91.9% of women do housework and take care of children, elderly and dependent family members, spending 4h29 a day.  This is compared to 74.7 % of men, who spend an average of 2h32.

In order to balance this situation, it is important to put in place measures that support women in accessing and staying in employment and encourage men to take a higher share of the family and care responsibilities. This is exactly what COFACE highlights in its European Reconciliation Package.

The European Reconciliation Package presents recommendations of what needs to be done at EU and national level to contribute to gender and pay equality, increased employment, improved childcare and care infrastructure and better wellbeing overall. It is available in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Read more about UNAF’s event here | Pictures and videos of the course will be available here

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Migrant care workers need to reconcile too!

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Millions of people work as carers for elderly in Europe, many of them are migrants who leave their country and their families behind. Most of them are women and move to become carers and, especially in southern Europe, they live in the same home of the person they care for. For example, in Italy it is possible to estimate the presence of around 900.000 migrant carers, the majority of whom work without a fully regular contract. Because of their irregular situation and the often high dependence of the person cared for, these workers are not able to reconcile their work and family life, as COFACE also highlighted in its European Reconciliation Package.

On 15 June, Paola Panzeri, COFACE Senior Policy Officer in charge of this dossier, presented the European Reconciliation Package conclusions and discussed about possible policy and legislative needs in the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome, intervening in a conference together with the Italian Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Interior.

The conference was organised by Soleterre, an Italian NGO who has been leading a research and exchange project on reconciliation possibilities for migrant care workers (report available in Italian here), financed by the European Integration Fund. During the project a set of indicators to evaluate work-life balance and a compendium of good-practices from across Europe has also been developed (available in Italian). During the conference, the issue of transnational families has also been touched, since many of these women move leaving their children or elderly parents in their country of origin.

COFACE believes this is a growing issue in Europe and will be working more closely on labour migration and families in the coming months, organising a capacity building seminar and a European conference in Bulgaria in November 2015 (more information about this event here).

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You don’t need kids to struggle with balance

work-life balance in EuropeWe have all heard the phrases “work-life balance” and “having it all”, but what we don’t hear are the unfiltered, unpretty truth from those in the trenches -what trying to create a balanced life actually looks and feels like. In this post, you will read the views of professional women -CEOs, single moms and those who are childfree by choice- on the notorious pursuit of “having it all.” Here’s what they said.

Work-life balance is not a static state that, once achieved, means you can maintain constant equilibrium. It’s always shifting. “What was ‘in balance’ for me 11 years ago before my daughter’s birth would throw me out of balance in today’s life”, says Aleasa M. Word, 45, a single mom of two, corporate employee. Quiana Murray, a business consultant, says: “The real key to balance is trying to determine what (or who) needs to be at the top of your list right now, today, and letting go of any judgment around that”.

For many working moms, work isn’t something they have to do, it’s an escape. Alison Podworski, 38, CEO and mom of three young girls, says that while her job is flexible, working in PR means working weeknights, weekends, and early mornings -but she loves it. “Sometimes I would rather be at a press conference or in the office than with my kids”, she says. It’s not that I don’t love them. I love my children more than anything in this world. But, for me, working is a break. There is no whining, crying, fighting, or drama. If any mother is going to say motherhood is blissful and wonderful all the time, I would like some of your happy pills.”

As already said on this blog, the idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first very much applies to finding balance, says Vicki Salemi, careers expert. “Women who seemed to achieve that golden work-life balance -or at least the vision of it- seemed to be ones who were less harried and had more of a sense of calmness because they focused on the foundation: themselves”, she explains. “They implemented self-care rituals like morning yoga classes. They were women on a mission, women with a plan, and that plan involved cutting themselves slack. This inner sense of peace and focus was able to carry through”.

Working moms are usually the focus when we talk about work-life balance, but not surprisingly, single women and those without children also struggle to find balance. Sociologist Amy Blackstone, says that, as a childfree person, one thing she never realized is that most people assume that the “life” part of work-life balance means “children”. “The idea that the childfree deserve balance just as much as their parent counterparts is overlooked by workplaces, policy makers, and, more generally, by most segments of our society”, she says. Those without children may also have additional “life” circumstances needing their attention.

“I always thought because I did not have kids I would never have to deal with work-life balance at all” , says Paige Arnof-Fenn, 49. “But the truth is, you still have the aging parents issue and chances are, like for my husband and me, you’ll take on the majority of that if your siblings did have kids. Also, in my case at least, I took on more responsibility at work and in the community, which leaves me less free time”.

The importance of setting boundaries. Vannessa Wade, 34, caretaker to her nieces and nephews, explains, “I bought into the myth that as a business owner I have to be on-call 24/7, when in reality I can set the standard on what works best for me and my situation. I’ve become more vocal about what works for me rather than always appeasing the masses, and you know what? It works”.

Read the full article “9 Things No One Tells You About Work-Life Balance” on

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Update on the Maternity Leave Directive

newsmay2015-mldAfter 7 years from the proposal from the European Commission and 5 years after the vote in the European Parliament, we are still at the same point: the Council does not express its position and blocks the co-decision process, i.e. the legislative procedure that the EU uses to create or update legislation. It is not a difference of view points or a difficulty in finding a compromise, but it is a total disregard of European democracy!

COFACE, together with other NGOs has been denouncing this unfair procedure and called repeatedly to start talks and move forward, especially in these last months, since the European Commission has threatened to withdraw the initial proposal as it may fall under the so-called “refit” process because if its stagnation. The European Court of Justice has however recently ruled specifically about how and when the Commission can withdraw a proposal and when refit can be applied.

In its last plenary session, the European Parliament has voted a Resolution asking to the Council to start talks, renewing its commitment to safeguard rights and promote health of pregnant and breastfeeding women, and calling to the Commission to put forward a new legislative initiative in case this current proposal would be withdrawn.

Read more:
Maternity leave: MEPs urge Council to restart talks (Press release, EP, 20/05/2015)
MEPs call for breakthrough on maternity leave (Article, EP, 19/05/2015)

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European Reconciliation Package: Annexes on Structural Funds available!

newsmay2015-annexesWhat can the EU do for you? Did you know that each EU country has an agency promoting local projects aimed at supporting employment and training through the European Social Fund?

To answer these and other questions, and to show that even if indirectly the EU has been doing some concrete actions to support reconciliation of work and family life, through its funding, we have published an Annex to our European Reconciliation Package, listing examples of funded project in the EU and gathering contact details where more information and guidance can be asked directly from citizens on current and future activities in their country.

The European Social Fund has been used to support inclusion of women in the labour maket and reconciliation measures through training or counselling for young mothers, or support to families with disabled children or professional training for childcare teachers. The European Regional Development Fund, has also been used to promote and support women’s employment or entrepreneurship.

More about the European Reconciliation Package

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European Reconciliation Package available in 4 languages!


As you know, COFACE launched on March 2015 the European Reconciliation Package, a unique policy document applying a systemic approach to the complex issue of work-life balance, to both its related challenges and possible solutions all over Europe.

This package highlights different policies and practices developed at local and national level that can support families in reconciling their work, family and care responsibilities. It reflects on the challenges and opportunities and presents recommendations of what needs to be done at EU and national level to empower families, and ultimately contributingto gender and pay equality, increased employment, improved childcare and care infrastructure and better wellbeing overall.

The publication is now available in English, Français, Español, Italiano. Choose your language and download it here!


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COFACE delegation meeting with Commissioner Thyssen

On the 20th April we were received by Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, her cabinet member Jonathan Stabenow and Stefan Olsson, Head of Unit in DG EMPL. Our delegation consisted of COFACE’s President Annemie Drieskens, our Vice-President from Greece, Antonia Torrens, and Agnes Uhereczky, COFACE’s director.

We really appreciate, that Commissioner Thyssen took time out of her busy schedule to meet with us, and we were able to give her in person a copy of the European Reconciliation Package, which we published in March 2015, following a year-long campaign and collaboration on the issue of reconciling work and family life in Europe.

Drieskens, Torrens Uhereczky Thyssen

from left: Antonia Torrens (Vice President), Annemie Drieskens (President), Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, Agnes Uhereczky (Director)

Commissioner Thyssen confirmed how important families are for society, and that policies aiming at supporting families, especially those in a vulnerable situation, like single parents, parents who have both little children and ageing relatives, working parents and carers are very important for Europe. Many of the issues we at COFACE are active on are at the heart of the new Commission’s policies.

The discussion turned to the issue of closing the existing gaps, between employed and unemployed people, between the employed and unemployed young people, which is a chronic problem now, but will also become a crisis for the future. Our Vice-President Antonia Torrens gave a first-hand account to the Commissioner about the experience of Greek families, where parents, sometimes already retired, are financially supporting their adult, unemployed children. We agreed, that investing in quality early childhood programmes are one of the crucial pillars in tackling this problem.

The COFACE delegation also presented the Commissioner the #FamiliesVOTE 2014 campaign and publication, with which we were aiming to inform our 30 million member families about the different political programmes of the Main European Parliamentary groups. As a former MEP herself, Commissioner Thyssen knows well the stakes at the EP and its composition. In terms of progressive, non-discriminatory family organisation, sometimes our job is simply to swim against the tide, and offer all families an alternative voice towards the European decision makers.

We also touched upon the review of the Europe 2020 strategy and objectives (COFACE and members participated at the open consultation) as well as the European Semester (we mentioned our Capacity building seminar). We agreed, that the European Semester policy coordination process is more social, than before, and that many of the country specific recommendations refer to family policy related issues. We also stated, that Member States also have to find their own solutions that fits within their own context, and there needs to be a more nuanced approach from the Commission towards individual member states.

The discussion also turned to the issue of families being concerned by different policies both at national and EU levels, and the communication and coordination challenges between the different DGs of the Commission and ministerial departments in the Member States. This concerns particularly the issue of leaves, allowances, and service provision, where families are sometimes totally left to fend for themselves, without adequate financial support, of accessible, affordable and quality services. This issue concerns in particular families with a disabled child, or other dependent family member, or families in a particularly vulnerable situation, be it financial, geographic disadvantage or due to other circumstance.

In closing we explored how we can use the UN ECOSOC consultative status of COFACE for more work on an intergovernmental level, also in relation to EU member states, and exchange of experience with 3rd countries.

The excellent meeting finished with a photo of the COFACE delegation handing over the European Reconciliation Package to Commissioner Thyssen, and mutual reassurances of the continued engagement and support to the objectives that unite both COFACE and the Commission.

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