Dispatches from Amsterdam: Gendered Care Policy

Gender equality in cultures can be examined by looking at the policies that drive the social constructs of male and female roles in daily life. These policies throughout history have been exemplified through maternity and paternity leave laws as well as the introduction of part-time work. By combining policy research with looking at current gender norms in society a furthered understanding of gender equality within individual cultures can be reached. This paper will examine policy and social norms related to gender, motherhood, and childcare as well as policies that reflect these norms in Canada and the Netherlands to gain an understanding of gendered labour relations across nations.
Caregiving is defined as attention given to people on a daily basis in the form of compensated or uncompensated labor (Kremer 2007). By looking at the ways that policies are built around this definition and the cultural complexities of these policies, a furthered understanding of gender relations in both Canada and the Netherlands can be found. In 1995 the Netherlands worked to define how caregiving was to be carried out in their nation through the implementation of the “one and a half model” (Kremer 2007). This model was the introduction of part time work and refers to the income that is to come into a household, as one and a half pay per family. This implementation of part time work for mothers is thought to be a better solution to the alternative, being not working at all (Plantega 2002). The introduction of part time work in 1995 contrasts greatly to the environment of the workforce for mothers in 1970, where mothers were forced out of the workforce after having a child and families functioned on a total “male breadwinner model” (Gunrow 2015). Although part time work for mothers can be seen as the better alternative to this model, women shifting from full to part time work after having a baby results in “negative career implications” (Gunrow 2015). These negative career implications can result in a lack of innovation from women and can greatly hinder the progress of societies as the lack of female voice shifts the perspectives in which education, government and technology progresses and fundamentally changes the way in which we view the world.
Negative career implications for women in relation to the need to provide child care is an issue seen across the Netherlands and Canada. In 2006 the Canadian federal government introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit which gives parents $100 per month per child (Manu 2010). The intention of the act was to let families “choose the child care option that best suits their families’ needs—whether that means formal child care, informal care through neighbours or relatives, or a parent staying at home” (Manu 2010). However, the bill was stated to have increased the gender pay gap. Due to the lack of women in the labour market and lack of income substantiated through the bill, it is stated that “the after-tax value of the UCCB decreases as income increases, single fathers will benefit more from the proposed change to the UCCB even though only 20 percent of single parents are male” (Manu 2010). This bill demonstrates the issues related to mothers and part time work that are shared between Canada and the Netherlands in the way in which a lesser value is placed on unpaid labour in relation to paid labour and the ways in which this affects policies, culture and gender relations.
A furthered issue of the one and half model in the Netherlands and bills such as the UCCB in Canada, is the notion of outside of family child care. In order for women in the Netherlands fulfill the half of the one and a half model, and for women in Canada to substantiate the wage difference between a livable income and what is given through the UCCB, mothers must go to work and leave their children at a child care facility. In the Netherlands it is considered that professional care for children will hinder their development, making bringing your children to child care a sort of social taboo in the culture (Kremer 2007). In Canada, studies have shown that “female employment in the first year of childbirth is detrimental to the child’s development” (Haeck 2015). Despite both cultures acknowledgement of the negative aspects of professional child-care for children’s development, policies surrounding maternity and paternity leave are not accommodating to the parents, child or cultural taboo.
In Canada maternity and paternity leave is “50 weeks paid benefit”, equaling about “55% paid earnings” (Ren 2013). Although this model is much higher than the Netherlands in which there are between 12-16 weeks maternity leave (Gunrow 2015), both models result in either women leaving full-time work or choosing to place children in a care facility and risk fundamental development of their children at a young age. This cultural idea about child care shared by both cultures, is a reason in which many women choose to pursue part-time work instead of returning to work full time after maternity leave. In the Netherlands 80% of women work part-time (Gunrow 2015). However more women in both nations could move towards having a higher percentage representation in full-time work without putting their children in child care if more men stepped into part-time work to provide increased unpaid care.
The Netherlands has worked towards disgendering care by implementing a course on caring into the education model in 1993 as well as using mass media to campaign for more male caretakers (Kremer 2007). Canada models this same interest in disgendering care by allowing 50 weeks of leave post child birth to be taken by the male or female. This move towards gender inclusivity in child care will hopefully result long term in a disgendering of the notion of caring and lift women into taking a higher percentage of work in the full-time field. With more women seen representing the field of full-time work and more men representing caretaking roles in both nations female innovation in society will increase, closing the wage gap between genders and leading towards new perspectives of viewing the world.

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