Gender equality: The real difficulty lies in work-life balance

Despite a great deal of progress, women’s work and career aspirations still suffer from restrictions, writes Daniela Aiuto.

Daniela Aiuto | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Daniela Aiuto

11 Oct 2017

In this day and age, the level of inequality between men and women is unacceptable. Since the start of the last century, a great deal of progress has been made in the western world, in terms of the right to vote, or sexual rights, for example.

However, a lot remains to be done, especially when we look further afield at countries outside the EU.

Women manage to take on different roles in our society, but the real difficulty for a woman is in reconciling family life (with all the different aspirations a woman may justifiably have) with her aspirations in terms of work and career, which are just as justifiable. 


It is not uncommon to hear from women who are crushed by too many responsibilities, sometimes preventing them from continuing to work, let alone from aspiring towards a prestigious career.

Looking after children or, a very common issue in our ageing societies, taking care of elderly family members, is almost exclusively a woman’s responsibility.

For some years now, the EU - first and foremost through its Parliament, but also through provisions introduced by the Commission - has been striving to ensure the welfare systems in the different member states live up to women’s expectations and demands. 

However, even within the Parliament, different perspectives lead to a focus on one ‘role’ rather than another (therefore often confining women either to getting the most out of work, or to family responsibilities), which is why even in this environment, it is not always easy to find common ground.

In all likelihood, given the way our western society is structured, a genuine balance between home and work life is, while not impossible, at least more difficult, as even in areas where welfare is more women-friendly, there are no big spikes in the birth-rate, and in fact, where women are managing to be much better established in the world of work, birth-rates are unremittingly on the decline.

Another regrettable point is the considerable predominance of men in certain sectors, such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM); although this sector is increasingly opening up to women, with a steady rise in the number of women in universities, various studies show that, at the end of their academic career, they struggle to find work, and when they do, they end up earning less than their male colleagues.

Particular attention should be paid to the issue of sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace, which contributes to alienating women from the employment market. Frequently these forms of violence are not reported, partly out of shame and partly out of fear, on the part of the victim, of reprisals at work.

I am however totally convinced of the need to combat these forms of violence forcefully, as they undermine both the physical and the psychological balance of the women who are subjected to such behaviour.

And this is where the different member states need to play their part in actively and effectively imposing punishments. Because let us not forget that violence towards women does not just damage the woman who is the victim of the violence, but also affects everything around her, from the balance of her family to interpersonal relationships.

Overall, I believe that Parliament’s report on women’s economic empowerment in the private and public sectors in the EU is a good report;

I contributed in my small way, as shadow rapporteur, by making some amendments on the basis of the points mentioned above.