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2-13 March 2009 - Commission on the Status of Women

France is actively participating in the work of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Commission on the Status of Women is the UN body in charge, in particular, of evaluating the respect of commitments made at the fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and at the 23rd extraordinary session of the General Assembly in 2000.

It will hold its 59th session, from 2 to 13 March, at the UN headquarters in New York. The priority theme will be "The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS".

The emerging issue will be "the gender perspectives of the financial crisis".

Violence against women will be a theme largely covered throughout this session:

- an oral report by the Special Rapporteur, followed by a question and answer session

- a parallel event on national legislation addressing violence against women

- the presentation of a database designed by the Division for the Advancement of Women.

A number of parallel events will be organized outside the session to stimulate reflection and expand the knowledge of participants. In particular, the European Commission is organising, along with France, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, a debate on "Reconciling family and professional life: the EU approach" (Friday, March 6, 1:15 pm - 2:30 pm).

At the close of the session, the Commission should be adopting conclusions and a certain number of resolutions.

The presence of a delegation coming from the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, as well as many French NGOs, shows that France attaches particular importance to the work of this Commission, of which France is currently an observer.

All of the documentation related to this session is available on the UN website at the following addressing:

March 6 2009 - EU side event - Statement by Ms. Sophie del Corso, service des droits des femmes et de l’égalité du Secrétariat d’Etat chargé de la Solidarité (Ministère du Travail, des Relations sociales et de la Solidarité)

The reconciliation between professional, family and private life was at the core of the programme of the EU french presidency in the field of gender equality.

1/ We presented, in the framework of the follow-up of the Beijing Platform for Action, a report that evaluates progress accomplished and those that remain to be done, regarding the indicators which were adopted on this topic during our previous presidency in 2000. On December 17th, 2008, the Council of the European Union adopted conclusions based on this report.

The nine indicators adopted in 2000 covered parental leave, child care facilities, policies aimed at promoting a balance between working and family life, dependent elderly people, opening hours of shops and public services, time-use for both employed parent, living alone or with a partner.

Eight years later, the report highlights data collection efforts, which have improved the information on which the indicators are based, for example on child care facilities, while stressing the difficulties remaining for certain indicators which are consequently recommended to be simplified. Namely, indicators on the opening hours of public services and shops are abolished, given the extreme diversity of such hours within the European Union, but Member States keep an opportunity to provide this information under indicator on policies aimed at promoting a balance between work and family life. Regarding the other indicators, the conclusions of the report are the following:

a) On parental leave : since 2000, despite widespread legislation, parental leave has developed little and the statistics available are still inadequate even if some progress have been made. Whatever the system adopted, parental leave remains very female dominated - more than 90% in most countries - with two exceptions : NL and UK, where this leave is very short. The longer the leave period and the lower the pay, the less it is taken up by mothers, and even less, of course, by fathers.

b) on child - care facilities : there is an improvement regarding child - care provision (even if there is room for improvement). As regards child- care provision for children aged 2 and under, major progress have been maide in several countries : 7 of 27 EU MS now meet the Barcelona target ( over 33% of 0-3 year olds receiving child-care). But it is mainly in respect of older children that efforts have been made : 10 countries exceed 90 % child-care for 3-6 year olds ; 7 others provide child-care for 70 to 90% for them.

c) on policies for balancing work and family life : this indicator, on which no information was given in previous studies, is the only one proposing a qualitative approach, since it concerns MS policies to promote work-life balance , based notably on : the relevance of the length of maternal or parental leave, the need to raise the issue with companies our the involvement of fathers.

d) on dependent elderly people : starting from a situation where data on the dependence of people over 75 did not exist, there has been a clear improvement in understanding through the launching of surveys which have, as yet, produced only piecemeal results. The data show that dependence increase with age, but the recourse to institutions is still low (10%) with the exception of Luxembourg (40%), which suggests that families (and very often women provide such care to a large extent.

e) on time surveys : considerable progress in the harmonisation have been made since 2000. "Tied" time (that is to say domestic and work time) is greater in the case of european women (with 3 exceptions : NL, Sweden, UK where it is equally shared). The presence of children further deepens this divide. Even if part-time work and parental leave reduce women’s working time, men keep more time "free", for themselves.

As new lines of enquiry, the report points out that the matter of the involvement of the companies in reconciling work and family life, as well as the notion of life cycle should be taken into account for the sake of better distribution of time throughout one’s life (earlier entry, later retirement), with "breathers" in working time and life long training for all.

Within the EU and in each MS, sources of compromise need to be found between the different actors involved :

- the State, which has to pursue efforts to invest in child care facilities, to continue to meet the cost of such care, to facilitate access to leave and promote flexible organisations of work time for both parents ;

- companies, which have to introduce more "family-friendly" measures ;

- trade unions, which have to negotiate measures favourable to everyone

- families, within which gender-based representations need to evolve.

At last, the report ask this question : "are the social work-life models evolving in Europe ?

Trying to answer to this question, the report points out that since 2000, the indicators have evolved considerably :

-  firstly, more information about them is now available,

-  secondly, the policies implemented on reconciling work and family life have evolved (development of child-care facilities and parental leave, etc) ;

-  but, despite the progress accomplished, the significance of standard models already presented in 2000 remains, with those 4 groups of countries :

1) Some countries have developed and consolidated a genuine policy of gender equality and gender balance geared to helping parents to fulfil themselves both in their work and family life : in these countries, the level of female employment and levels of fertility are relatively high ;

2) Other ones focus more on women, with an average level of female employment and fairly low levels of fertility, even though their access to the employment market is now improving for economic and social reasons - through part time work, and/or well paid parental leave ;

3) In a third group, the State intervenes little for various reasons - budget constraints, "family-centred" or "free-market" models : family solidarity then has a key role to play but is accompanied by low involvement of women on the labour market and a very low level of fertility rate

4) Finally, a "hybrid" group combine these various elements, depending on the circumstances and sometimes to the detriment of some women (those with lower qualifications).

The report concludes that the national public measures adopted to improve work-life balance correspond in reality to choices regarding gender equality : public child care facilities are more favourable to mother working full-time, while over long and badly paid leaves, even part-time work, have a negative impact on women’s careers and retirement. These arrangements are still much dominated by women and less geared to qualified jobs. Hence, the importance of reviewing such indicators on a regular basis.

Building on this report, the Council conclusions calls on Member States to adopt appropriate measures for the reconciliation of work, family and private life, and to this end :

- to step up the efforts, in line with their national policies and competences, and respecting the need of families for choice and opportunities, to achieve the 2002 Barcelona targets on childcare services (for 33% of children under 3 years old and for 90% of childre between 3 and 6 years old)also ensuring their affordability, accessibility and quality

- to step up progress towards meeting the needs of families who have to take on responsibility for dependants;

- to continue to take the necessary measures to encourage men to share family and domestic responsibilities with women on an equal footing ;

- to promote measures to eradicate gender stereotypes, so as to change the representation of the roles of men and women in work, family and private life ;

- to encourage companies to adopt family-friendly measures and to take into account the need to reconcile work and family life in their working time arrangements ;

- to take into consideration gender equality in family leave schemes, as well as the implications of part-time work for men and women respectively, in order to avoid any negative effects that they may have, inter alia, on the employment of women.

The topic of child care facilities was discussed during the meeting of ministers in charge of family issues, in September 2008. Ministers emphasized that it is necessary to promote a diversification of child care facilities and to encourage companies to participate in these efforts.

One of the round tables of the conference that we organized on the theme of professional equality on November 13th and 14th, was focused on "Reconciling professional and private lives, a stake in play for the attractiveness of regions and company performance"

This Round Table highlighted how taking into consideration the needs to reconcile professional life and personal life becomes a stake for the attractiveness of territories (by the development of the child care, the development of transport and services…)

It also showed how taking into consideration of the needs of the employees to reconcile professional life and personal life companies (by supporting parents for childcare, by promoting a more flexible organization of work in the company) becomes a stake for the performance of firms.

- Irmeli Vainio, of the Equality Committee of the City of Turku (Finland) presented the local policy developed by this city to facilitate the reconciliation of family life and professional life.

- Anna Hesselman, of the company

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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU