Care-full public policy A comparative study of the gender equalizing potential of social policies in Sweden and the Netherlands
Leeuwen, M.J. van
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In this thesis, I compare two forms of social policy in Sweden and the Netherlands for their gender equalizing potential. These countries have both tried to achieve better gender equality using several social policy forms in different socio-economic situations resulting in two very different systems. To analyse the equalizing potential of both countries, I asked how Sweden’s public policy concerning work-family balance compares to Dutch policy equivalents and how these policies affected gender equality differently in these countries. In order to signal good and bad practises in policy implementation, I have investigated two specifically heralded policy fields: publicly funded childcare and parental leave. Concerning these policies, gender equality is understood as the extent to which both genders can achieve an equal balance between work and family responsibilities. Effectively these policies should thus increase both women’s labour participation and fathers’ uptake of care work. The analyses resulted in three general conclusions. Firstly, social policy follows social movements, not the other way around. In both countries the analysed policies where formulated and implemented as a reaction to social developments. Secondly, parental leave is an ambiguous policy tool to improve both work-family balance and the gender equality situation. Overall, a gender equalising potential resides within these policies, bringing fathers to care and women to work but they can do serious harm to women’s labour market position. Thirdly, government paid childcare is a complementary policy tool to achieve better gender equality. It does little for men’s share in care work as part of the work-family balance but does provide mothers with means to outsource care work. Based on the analyses and comparison of Swedish and Dutch policies, Sweden’s system has improved gender equality the most. Sweden has a theoretically more solid and practically more effective parental leave scheme. However, the mentioned downsides of parental leave schemes have also actualised in Sweden. Secondly, it was revealed that there is potential within the Dutch parental leave scheme to assimilate characteristics present in the Swedish equivalent. This is supported by results of the analyses of both the Netherlands and Sweden. To improve gender equality institutionally in the Netherlands, Sweden can therefore provide helpful inspiration, and there are serious indications this implementation would be successful.