The European Women''s Lobby (EWL), a European NGO that promotes gender equality and women’s rights, has voiced concerns on gender equality and definitions of family in recent European family policy debates. Excessive focus is being placed on birth rates, it fears.
In a statement issued ahead of the thematic week "Europe for Families, Families for Europe", organized by the Hungarian EU Presidency from 28 March to 01 April, the EWL stressed the importance of removing inequalities within families and between different types of families. It noted that more needs to be done to improve the well-being of all women and men living in family and partnership arrangements. The NGO invited the EU and the Member States to broaden their family policy debate and proposed several issues be placed at the heart of the European family policy agenda.
The EWL stressed that the debate on family policy focuses on work-life balance while women’s rights or the gender equality perspective is almost absent from these debates. The EWL also warned that the strong link made between family policies and birth rates may lead to a narrow definition of family.
The NGO highlighted that the behaviour of family members is being shaped by gender roles and not by individual choices or by what would be most beneficial for the family as a whole. Family-related policies (employment, social protection, or taxation) are still based on the male breadwinner model in many countries, and work-life balance policies are still mainly targeted at women, which reinforces stereotypes and gender inequalities in the labour market and at home.
The EWL highlighted the importance of ‘gender-equal family policies’ that promote the economic independence of women, remove inequalities between women and men in paid and unpaid work, and challenge cultural stereotypes.
The EWL also pointed out that policies and legislation must acknowledge the increasing diversity of family relationships and parenting arrangements and avoid imposing a definition of family that excludes certain types of families. A failure to acknowledge this diversity amounts to discrimination on various grounds including sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, stressed the NGO.
The EWL expressed strong concern about the lack of policy initiatives at the EU level in support of single-parent families that account for 4.3% of all European households. Almost 90% of these families are headed by women and many of them face a higher risk of poverty as access to employment is particularly difficult for single parents due to the lack of affordable adapted care services.
According to the EAF, EU-level debate on family policies and family well-being has so far neglected the key question of violence against women, to which women are exposed in all areas of their lives, including at home and within the family. It is estimated that every fifth woman in Europe is subjected to male domestic violence at some point in her life and that seven women die every day from male domestic violence in Europe.
The EWL stressed that violence against women in family settings is a human rights issue that needs to be addressed with public policies. The issue needs to be more visible when family policies and family well-being are discussed at the EU level.