Work-life balance key to a better, more equal Europe

Gender stereotypes are affecting work-life balance, warns Monika Vana.

By Monika Vana

04 May 2016

In this day and age, work-life balance is a key issue. Not only does it enable and foster gender equality, it also influences European citizens' quality of life. Therefore, it should be at the forefront of our political demands to balance private and professional life in a fair and empowering way. We face increasing liberalisation of our European policies and therefore also of our labour markets. 

Many workers, both female and male, are forced to withstand the pressure of the current labour market, all too often finding themselves in precarious working situations. They are compelled to be ever more flexible and productive in order to keep up with the pace.

The economic crisis, which has particularly hit and negatively affected women, has put people in unstable and uncertain situations. The number of 'working poor' has risen. Many people have two jobs, working times have increased and employers demand flexibility and constant availability.


Work is distributed unequally. On the one hand, the number of part-time jobs is increasing, but on the other, 'all-in' contracts have become the norm. Reduced working time could therefore be beneficial in two ways; creating jobs in times of rising unemployment and contributing to a healthy work-life balance for all employees and workers.

Another issue that positively influences the reconciliation of work and private life is the provision and expansion of public services. We need to make sure that people have a lifecycle leave perspective. We must also ensure that childcare, care of the elderly and educational leave are inclusive, affordable and accessible to all.

Gender equality and work-life balance are inextricably linked, as is demonstrated by the take-up rate and duration of parental leave. To name just a few, the lack of free and accessible childcare, gender stereotypes - not to mention the gender pay gap - positions women as the carers and men as the breadwinners. 

It means that the take-up rate of parental leave by women is significantly higher than that of men. As regards the duration of parental leave, it has been proven that women unfortunately face increasing difficulties in returning to the job market the longer they stay at home. 

Therefore, in order to encourage men to participate equally in family life, we need to aim for non-transferable parental leave rights and to ensure that a certain amount of parental leave is available exclusively for men.

In this context, we must always keep in mind that gender equality can only be reached through a fair and balanced redistribution of paid and unpaid work, as well as of family and care responsibilities. This is why we need a holistic approach to maternity, paternity and parental leave.