Social reforms including maternity leave: who benefits?
General remarks: Accession as a supporter of peace
- When dealing with Western Balkan countries, we should bear in mind that they are still in the process of recovering from a devastating war. As a peace campaigner and a women’s rights advocate, I would like to underline the crucial role women should play in the process of building peaceful society in these countries.
- As far as the accession process is concerned, I don’t think it can be dealt with separately from the peace process. The European Union is a project of peace and accession to it is not only an economic strategy - it is primarily a commitment to peace, and a commitment to discuss with our neighbours rather than fighting them. Western Balkans societies are still recovering from war, and the accession process should help them build a more solid and lasting peace.
Social reforms and gender equality are key parts of the peace process
- In order to achieve that goal, social justice is key. And as far as gender equality goes, it is not only a matter of social policy, but also a matter of human rights. The accession process’ support of gender equality policies is extremely important and the EU should continue to use this tool to encourage reforms.
- Work-life balance, in particular, is a crucial policy area. In the Western Balkans, as in every other country in the world, care responsibilities are disproportionately borne by women. They are responsible for the informal care sector (as they care for children and for the elderly without any recognition of their contribution to society) and they are overrepresented in the formal care sector.
Accession-related gender equality reforms are not as successful as expected
- However, it seems that some of the reforms undertaken by Western Balkans countries in order to overcome gender stereotypes in the social sector are not as successful as expected. The case of Montenegro was brought to my attention by Kvinna. In their reform of work-life balance policies, their failure to listen to women led to flawed policies that further worsened the gender imbalance in the labour market.
- As the state provided for life-long social benefits for mothers of more than three children, it therefore provided disincentives for women to work. As a result, 17 000 women left employment in exchange for these benefits. When they tried to change the law to correct this flaw, mothers lost claims to the benefits and those who were previously employed received only partial compensation. Many women are now facing very uncertain prospects and poverty.
- In order to build more sustainable policies, it is therefore key to listen to women and to include them in the design policies that affect them. The accession process should be seen as an opportunity to experience ways of including women in decision-making.