Minister Haatainen at the EU Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights
The Minister of Social Affairs and Health Tuula Haatainen, who is responsible for equality issues in Finland, addressed the EU Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Tuesday 11 July. She told the Committee about the main emphases of the Finnish EU Presidency and in particular activity aimed at promoting equality between men and women.
The harmonisation of work and family is no longer purely an issue of gender equality. It is linked more closely than before to general economic prerequisites. The employment rate among men and women in particular must be raised. It will not be possible to realise the goals of the Lisbon Strategy unless all resources at our disposal are put to use. Working life has to be continued for longer than it is now. In addition, the responsibilities of working and family life have to be reconciled more flexibly and uniformly among women and men.
The low birth rate and the fall in the birth rate combined with population ageing are a serious challenge for EU Member States. There will not be enough employees to carry out all the work unless people continue at work for longer than at present. The flexible arrangement of working life and free time will support the staying power of the labour market and the har-monisation of work and family life. Member States must develop the system of childcare and parental leave.
The unequal divisions of family responsibilities need to be made even between fathers and mothers and to develop flexible working time models specifically from the starting point of the family. When working times are discussed and decided on, there needs to be broader at-tention given to the fact that employees with families can fully participate in work. This is possible only when working times are arranged flexibly.
Also, the economic equality of families during parental leave must be improved, for instance by levelling the costs incurred by family leave among employers. This would especially strengthen the position of young women in the labour market and stabilise employment.
The flexible harmonisation of working and family life would also support possibilities for arrangements for the care of older parents. This would also facilitate the organisation of care services.
The hearing also dealt with gender mainstreaming. Its advancement should be speeded up, so that decisions taken in different sectors would take account of their impact on men and women’s equality possibilities in work and private life.
The challenges of demographic change and globalisation are main points of emphasis during the Finnish Presidency. These were dealt with in Helsinki 6-7 July 2006 at the informal meet-ing of employment, social affairs and health ministers. The harmonisation of working and family life is an inseparable part of this debate. The theme is also part of the conference on Men and Equality, Helsinki 5-6 October 2006.
There are large differences among EU member States in the birth rate, the participation of women in employment, the availability and coverage of day care, and the scope of parental leave arrangements. In contrast with previous impressions, in many European countries women with families are actively involved in working life and the birth rate is has been rela-tively high. It is possible to take care of family responsibilities and also go to work. This nev-ertheless requires a well-functioning system of childcare.
Woman and men are located in different fields in working life. Because of this the expenses and practical arrangements incurred by parental leave are in many countries more of a burden on professions dominated by women.
In autumn, the Commission will issue a communiqué on demographic development, which will also deal with the harmonisation of work and private life. The issue of harmonising work and private life is one of six areas of emphasis in the Commission’s gender equality roadmap for 2006-2010. The issue has also been discussed in the European Parliament. In dealing with the implementation of the previous proposal for a directive on the implementation of the prin-ciple of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women, it voiced concern pre-cisely on the matter of harmonising work and private life.
Ministerial Counsellor Kari Ilmonen +358 50467128
Senior Officer Päivi Yli-Pietilä +358 504649323
Special Advisor Kimmo Norrmén +358 407226857