Today, 4 November, marks the EU’s Equal Pay Day. In the EU and the UK, women earn 16% less than men on average per hour. That’s why, based on this calculation, today women in the EU symbolically start working for free compared to men. The gender pay gap can be explained by multiple causes, but undeniably the unfair distribution of care – both unpaid and paid – is one of the main reasons of ongoing economic gender inequality.
The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted how important care work is for our societies, how much precariousness there is in this sector all across Europe and how disproportionately it is shouldered by women. An urgent conversation needs to be had about the value we place on care work.
Gender inequality and the care economy: time for a change, Robert Sweeney, from the Irish Think-tank for Action on Social Change, explains why “the relationship between paid care and economic gender equality is complicated” and why countries with large professionalised care economies, as the Nordics, have at the same time lower employment differences between men and women and higher gender pay gaps. Trying to solve the problems is also complex, as “the expansion of the traditional care sector such as paid child and elder care raises the female employment rate, but also results in more women working in jobs that are often low paid.”
Mari Huupponen, care expert working for a Swedish trade union and member of FES-FEPS experts’ group on care, takes the Swedish handling of the Covid-19 crisis head-on in Let the coronavirus be the revival of a professionalised welfare state. Huupponen explains why, despite the illusion that was perceived as a certainty, that ” the Nordic care model was the one thing that would save us from Italy’s tragic death count”, the Swedish welfare system failed to protect the elderly, due to decades of austerity and privatisation. A system that punishes women providing care too: “the system that had once freed women is suddenly a system that makes women sick.” Her hope is to draw the lessons and to come back from the cliff of austerity: “After the pandemic, we must build a resilient welfare system that is based on professionalised care work”.
In many Western European countries, care is mainly provided by women from Central and Eastern Europe write Petra Ezzeddine, from the Charles University in Prague, and Zuzana Uhde, from the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in cross-border care labour market in Central Europe: a myth of an egalitarian and integrated Europe. The care crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on the everyday functioning of care migration from Central and Eastern Europe. “It presupposes the transnational lives of migrant care workers, but paradoxically also denies them at the same time.” The authors focus on the “structural vulnerabilities and the exploitation of migrant care workers” and how caregivers have ended up paying “the social and financial burden related to the Covid-19 care corridors.”