The concept of the employed mother is of particular interest for social theorist in that it incorporates two essential activities of any society – material provision and human reproduction together with care for offspring – and thus transcends the traditional division of labour by render (Buckley, 1988).
Gender equality is seen as a goal by all western democracies, it is considered to be a fundamental human right. However, there are many institutional and social barriers to achieving gender equality in particular in the context of parenting and work. In this paper, I will be discussing the approaches made by the Swedish and the German Governments into achieving or even frustrating gender equality in employment.
The primary difference between the welfare regimes in Sweden and Germany is that the former is a Social democrat and the latter is a Corporatist regime.
The slogan born in the Adenauer era of the 1950s was ‘prosperity for everyone – no social experiments’ (Gerhard, 1992). Franz-Josef Wuermeling, Adenauer’s minister for family, was a member of the all male German Catholic group ‘fides romana’ which promised to support and realize Catholic doctrine in daily practice. Relationship between Christian social ideas and origins of the German welfare state shows how Lutheran as well as Catholic ideas merged with a Prussian Protestant bureaucratic culture to forge a corporatist regime (Gerhard, 1992). The regime was laid down during the Weimar Republic, influenced by the Zentrum party that advocated Catholic social ideas and focussed on institutions and related institutions (couples and parents) than on separate individuals.
Regime promotes a politics of status maintenance for already existing status groups, as Esping-Anderson (1990) puts it – ‘for those who already have’. Men are treated as normal wage earners, highly skilled, continuously employed, husbands and the head of the household while women are perceived to be wives and mothers.
Despite more then a hundred years of reform, social insurance has remained the ‘core institutional principle of the German welfare state’ (Alber, 1988). This represents the ‘third way’ of providing social security between the liberal, market orientated, residual type of income maintenance and the egalitarian, universal, redistributive, citizenship orientated system Schmidt (1988). Provision of benefits is determined by previous earnings. Full time continuous participation in employment will guarantee sufficient income security. Unemployed people, women, children rely on benefits from the insured male breadwinner.
Social structures biased towards the ‘the employed married middle classes’ has been continuously reproduced. This status maintenance principle differs greatly from that of a universalised workers citizenship, it pits difference against equality (Alber, 1988). Furthermore, immigration policies that invited ‘guest workers’ to fill the void in the labour market following World War Two made it difficult for women to secure employment, reinforcing the gender division and maintained the ‘male bread winner’ policies.
German unification brought two of Europe’s most counterposed welfare systems face to face, and the contrast was particularly marked in social policies concerning women. For whereas equality between men and women was upheld as a goal of the East German system, backed by social provisions to enable women to work, in West Germany, male and female roles were cast as emphatically different and complementary. Thus the two systems exemplified what has been characterised as public and private patriarchy (Lister, 2007).
Hernes (1987) described the Swedish welfare state as ‘tutelary’ in its dealing with women. She emphasized the ‘women friendly’ potentialities, envisaging a state from in which ‘injustice on the basis of gender would be largely eliminated’. The Swedish welfare system provided a wide range of benefits and services that were seen as universalist and citizenship entitlements. State was committed to redistribute wealth via higher rate of taxation to generate an egalitarian society as well as providing a safety net for the poor (Esping-Anderson, 1987). He describes it as a ‘Liberal Social model’ that has the highest degree of decommodification and the model is characterised by an activist/interventionist state.
Philanthropic organizations and labour/popular movements played an important part in the shaping of Swedish policies, especially the concept of a ‘Women friendly state’. Policies were aimed at diminishing differences between social classes and regions. Equal status policies developed during the 1970’s can be interpreted as elaborating state intervention embedded in the rhetoric of egalitarian principles (Hirdman, 1989). To fill the shortage in the labour market, Sweden did not invite ‘guest workers’. In the post war state, the work/family relationship changed from being managed within the gendered differentiated, domestic mother family towards the employed mother family.
The clause in the West German constitution (1949) proclaiming equal rights between men and women is one of the best in the world (Gerhard, 1992). Its insertion was only achieved after an extraordinary campaign by women, led by Elisabeth Selbert, a Social Democrat.
In practice the law was largely ignored during the 1950’s and the 1960’s in favour of the clause giving state protection to marriage and the family. In Federal Legal Code, all decision making was vested in the husband; this clause was not annulled until 1957. The more definite watershed law came in the 1977 marriage and family rights reform, which introduced the notion of partnership in the sense of joint responsibility between husband and wife, and equal worth between the wife’s employment outside the home and her family roles (Ritter, 2011). The 1977 law abolished an earlier clause which subordinated a women’s employment to her home duties, but obliged her to take a job if the husband’s income was insufficient.
Swedish marriage legislation was reformed in the early part of the 20th century that resulted in the abolishment of male privileges and equality was declared. The introduction of basic equality between spouses was in contrast to Germany, where it was not until the 1970’s that similar legislation began to take place (Bradley, 1996).
The new emphasis on women’s right formed part of the cultural liberalisation which permeated West German society in the aftermath of 1968. But it was also prompted by shifts in the labour market and employer interest in ‘unused’ female labour.
The early 1970’s saw a spate of employer reports and statements advocating full childcare, training for older women, protection for part time workers, the coordination of school work studies, meals provision at work and at school, the development of the service sector to lighten housework, and even men’s participation in housework (Vogelheim, 1988).
Subsequently in the deepening economic crisis of 1979, Ostner, (1998) argues that women came to be portrayed by employers less as a group with unrealised potential and more as a problem group to be blamed for their own disadvantages. The family was seen as a source of problems for the state, economy and society.
This was in the context in which the newly returned Conservative-Liberal coalition of 1982 advocated ‘new motherliness’, a new valuing of women’s domestic roles and a convenient return from the labour market to the home. The reaction of women as expressed in polls then caused a hasty turnabout in favour of an emphasis on combining home and employment and shared roles between men and women (Chamberlayne, 1990).
Childbearing allowances and parental leave were introduced in 1986 as part of a ‘DM 10 billion family package’. It provided a universal flat rate of DM 600 monthly payment for the first six months of a child’s life, to be taken by either parent. Parental leave could be taken for up to three years, with job security and a means tested benefit of up to DM 600 for up to two years. The law gives strong protection against dismissal though there is no guarantee of returning to the same job or the same working conditions (Stiller, 2009). Since the DM 600 was equivalent to a part time job, it was permissible to work up to nineteen hours a week in addition, which would entail child care costs, the whole arrangement was on par with a low female wage.
It was open to either parent, but the opportunity costs would be greater for the higher earning partner, usually the man, thus the policy reinforced gender divisions. At first the reform seemed to make advantageous for women to leave work; only later did they realise the cost to their career opportunities (Stiller, 2009).
Critics pointed out, the DM 10 billion only made up for cuts in family benefits and tax allowances which had been made in the period 1982-85. The spending increase was really the result of demography, the number of children under 18 having fallen from14 million in 1981 to 11.4 million in 1986. During that time legislation carried no thrust for equality, but did repeal laws which seemed to predetermine women’s roles (Stiller, 2009).
With regard to the long term unemployed women, and more generally to the restructuring German labour market, Olson, (2006) argues, parental leave policies work as a flexible ‘exit and part time reentry mechanism’, furthermore, the German social policy tradition has promoted a policy which channels women with children towards a partial exit from the labour market but does promote the simultaneous performance of paid and unpaid work.
Sweden took the lead in terms of integrating women in gainful employment during the 1960’s. The Government carried out major policy reform of parental leave. In 1974, leave was extended to six months, and fathers were granted statutory rights to leave. The argument in favour of the decision strongly emphasised that bridging family life and working life was, a problem for women, and integrating men in care responsibilities was decisive for achieving gender equality. Role of the father was subjected to increased politicisation that led to the formation of the ‘daddy group’ in 1982, followed by the implementation of the ‘one month daddy leave’ in 1994, leave was extended to two months in 2002. Daddy leave was framed as a means to change the so called ‘in principle’ attitude of men towards gender equality (Kamarmen, 2009). Right wing opponents framed the ‘daddy leave’ as a violation of the family’s free choice.
Home care allowance encouraged mothers to stay at home and care for young children, initially aimed at mothers, later legislation was couched in gender neutral rhetoric even though the take up rate by fathers was low. Some point to the temporary nature of the break from the labour market and the value to those mothers who would otherwise be unemployed (Salmi, 2006). Concerns were raised regarding women’s long term labour market position and reinforced the gendered division of labour, particularly for less educated women in lower skilled jobs (Morgan and Zippel, 2003, OECD, 2005). Thus, the policies can also exacerbate class stratification. The significance of this for gender equality and women’s citizenship is disputed (Salmi, 2006).
Giving parents time off to care for children and reorganizing the working day to enable parents to achieve a ‘work life balance’ is essential in promoting women’s employment. German Government implemented measures designed to enable parents to reconcile work and family life. Federal law gives all children between the age of three and six a right to a place in a kindergarten, but does not fully specify full time provision. The state plays a minimal role in providing child care services for under three’s, also the facilities are not open for the full length of the working day. This is problematic for working parents, since German children attend school in the morning only. One effect is that more young school age children are left alone at home or in the care of a sibling than many would consider desirable (Eurostat, 2002). As a result, Bradshaw and Finch (2002) argue that parenthood works to increase the rate of men’s employment.
The Swedish Government, during the 1960’s along with the trade unions strongly advocated expansion of childcare as a vehicle for achieving gender equality. The increasing number of working mothers was irreversible, mothers engaged in employment before universal childcare was adopted in 1972 (Bergqvist, 1999).
Two competing discourses were at play; one view was that the mother and child should stay together for at least tree years and that childcare facility were harmful for children. The other was that the child would benefit from high quality day care services. The latter view was adopted and child care laws were implemented based on universalist principles and framed public childcare provision as a child’s right (Salmi, 2006). Thus, there was a rapid expansion of childcare, and Sweden has a record high provision for children under three.
Quotas were established in Germany during the 1980’s in an effort to encourage female political participation. The Green Party started the trend by introducing a quota of 50 percent; other major parties soon introduced similar measures. Pioneers of the quota system argue it is such quotas that paved the way for greater female participation, as a result Germany elected their first female chancellor, Angela Merkel in 2005.
Phillips (1995) argues that due to quotas, Swedish female politicians achieved a historical high in political representation, however, women occupied 20 to 30 percent of parliamentary seats before such quotas were implemented (Caul, 2001). Caul, further argues that of the seven main parties, only three adopted such quotas during the 1980’s, and the increase was due to affirmative action measures, and the change in party’s strategies, in order to receive the women vote they re-branded them selves as modern, equal and forward thinking parties.
Applying quotas in the labour market is a very controversial issue. GISA director Thomas Claus warns against such blanket actions “I’m not against quotas, but you can’t apply them to all areas of business, for example, if you did that in the construction industry, typically dominated by men, that would be counter productive”.
Occupational segregation has been increasing in the private sector. Management, councils and trade unions are accused of not promoting gender equality. Pay gap between men and women has been increasing. Both countries have dropped in the Global Gender Gap Index ranking while Sweden was ranked 1st and Germany ranked 5th in 2006, in 2010 the former was ranked 4th and the latter ranked at 13th. While the EU average pay gap stands at 17.5, Sweden is at 17.1 and Germany at 23.2 (GGP, 2010). Full time men are paid more then women that are employed at similar positions with similar education and experience who work part time; additionally women are denied management positions.
The Green Party leader Renate Kunast suggested implementing gender mainstreaming programmes and legally binding quotas to increase the number of women at management boards, executive committees and equality law for the private sector. By doing so she argued that it would disrupt the male self selection to management position that is persistent, this would create an avenue for women to management positions. In 2008, the Norwegian Government introduced a female quota policy for corporate boards; as a result there has been an increase of up to 40 percent of female board members. Such policies could be a role model for other European countries Kunast added.
Gender mainstreaming – implementing measures that ensure gender equality is taken into account when policies are developed, giving women with equal qualification as male preferential treatment during job selection, training, and promotion in industries where women are underrepresented, is seen as a way of encouraging women to enter areas that are dominated by men. Both countries agreed to implement mainstreaming programmes at the Amsterdam treaty in 1999. Gender mainstreaming was implemented across German Government departments in 2000, under the ‘Modern state – Modern administration’ programme. However, Stratigaki (2005) argues that the transformative effect of gender mainstreaming was minimal and its application has led to contradictory results. It opened important opportunities for specific policies in new policy areas, whereas in some other it diluted positive action. She also claims that, at least as of 2003, gender mainstreaming has failed to affect core policy areas or radically transform policy processes.
Sweden and Germany have created new forms of inequality. Inequalities in employment, valuing of unpaid work and the unequal sharing of unpaid work is evident. Employed mothers are workers, carers for children and citizens of the welfare state. The full time, life long wage worker, typically a male, is better provided for than the informal carer, typically a female. If the welfare state established a ‘partnership’ with women, clearly women are the junior partners.
Despite women’s educational attainment and increased labour market participation, labour market remains highly segregated both horizontally and vertically (Lister, 2007). The gendered character of the public-private division has been reproduced in the labour market, and this has exacerbated the gender segregation. Women friendly arrangements are much more widespread in the public sector than in the private sector. Women are more likely to work in the public sector and men in the private, more likely to work reduced hours when children are young, less likely to achieve top positions in the private sector. Women are hit by ‘child penalty’, which implies that childbirth and parental leave, career opportunities, wages and pension earnings are intertwined in a complex way (Lister, 2006). Women miss out on wage increases, career opportunities and old age pension contributions the more children they have. The developments towards insurance based old age pensions has and will increase gender income inequalities in old age, due to women’s lower salaries, shorter working hour per week and shorter working lifetime. During the past decades, salary in the public sector have fallen behind those in the private sector, thus wage gap between the genders persists.
The HBS (2010) carried out a detailed research with the aim of establishing the level of inequalities that exists in the German labour market. The authors focused on legislation, implementation, monitoring of equalities instruments and the regulation of enforcement. A comparison of German national strategies with those of United States, Sweden, Switzerland and France, concluded that there is a dominance of ‘hierarchical-passive’ regulation. Meaning “legislation without comprehensive regulation of enforcement, and work-life balance policies”. There’s a lack of “regulation when it comes to demanding proof of implementation at company level, such as reports, plans and monitoring, are underdeveloped”. Instead of rhetoric, some are calling for legislation facilitating collective law suites.
Sweden’s policies have been at the forefront in fostering gender equality, and they are sometimes constructed as a model for other countries.
Gender equality as a political project has been consistent in Sweden but not in Germany. Swedish Policy makers have appeared in the discrepancy between the strong rhetoric of gender equality and the gendered social practices. The policy logic has, above all, embraced a ‘universal breadwinner model’ but it failed to achieve a ‘universal caregiver’ model. The reforms of parental leave and the expansions of childcare provisions was a step towards a universal caregiver vision, this was taken with the adoption of the daddy month. Shared parenthood as a prerequisite for shared power between the genders gained a strong foothold in Swedish political discourse during the 1990’s. Sweden is a relatively egalitarian society overall, the gender pay inequalities that result from occupational segregation do not translate into such wide economic inequalities as segregated labour markets do elsewhere. The embedded resistance of the gendered domestic division of labour to significant change means that the gender neutral policies seem to have more of an impact in inadvertently reinforcing the gendered division of labour (Lister, 2006).
When it comes to equal pay, Germany has plenty of initiatives, regular protests and a anti-discrimination law. There is a relationship between the position of women as paid and unpaid workers, but in Germany, the Government had no real intention of addressing this relationship because it is located within the family and therefore this was seen as being beyond the remit of the government, furthermore, boundaries around the labour market was drawn more tightly. In the case of women, the effect was to increase their dependence on men.
The German welfare system produces its own winners and losers. Female winners are those who manage to get married to a continuously employed man, to have a happy marriage and who are content with this lifestyle. In a capitalist society staying at home and living on a husband’s income incorporates the likelihood of a restricted independence via personal dependence (Ostner, 1998).
Though controversial, in order to really address inequalities, countries need to implement, quotas, gender mainstreaming programmes, positive discrimination policies, work life balance policies, greater female political representation in politics, initiatives that breaks downs gender segregation and further legislation to ensure inequalities is tackled.