Our Care on the Move conference took place at the European Parliament recently, where speakers from diverse backgrounds, ranging from academics, to policy-makers and representatives from civil society organizations, came together to shed light on the gender care gap issue in relation to intra-EU mobility. Featuring Dr. Nina Miller from the University of Glasgow, Law School, the event was hosted by two MEPs Maria Noichl (S&D) and Christine Schneider (EPP) and supported by the European Women’s Lobby and Coface Families. The conference reiterated the critical need to recognize and value women’s and mothers’ unpaid care work within the European Union.
Today this is a widespread reality: in the context of intra-EU mobility, the gender care gap, (namely the inequitable distribution of unpaid care work between women and men), is mainly supported by women, thus affecting their ability to work. Indeed, half of women EU citizens, who are moving to an EU host Member State, aren’t active on the labour market due to childcare responsibilities. In such circumstances, it is even more crucial for mothers and women with caring responsibilities to formally secure their situation, notably in terms of residence and social protection.
However, EU free movement rules, one of the most essential pillars of the EU citizenship regime, deny the reality of care, therefore precluding mothers and women to effectively access free movement rights and protections, like residence and equal treatment rights.
The Citizens Rights Directive 2004/38/EC provides a series of free movement rights and protections for Union citizens and their family members. In that regard, article 7, (1) of the Directive is an important provision, since it consecrates the right of residence for more than three months on an EU host Member State territory for Union citizens holding specific status, all of them revolving around the notion of “work”. However, that notion is not gender neutral for EU law. Indeed, the Court of Justice of the European Union considers unpaid care work to be a non-economic activity that doesn’t qualify as “work” for the purposes of EU law, resulting in serious consequences for all mobile mothers and women with caring responsibilities.
Mothers and women with full-time caring responsibilities are unable to secure any autonomous and individual residence rights. Additionally they cannot secure other associated rights, such as the equal treatment right, entitling them for instance, to social welfare benefits similar to host state nationals. Both, those with caring responsibilities and those being cared for, like children, are therefore at an increased risk of legal and physical insecurity and precariousness.
Moreover, the Citizens Rights Directive guarantees free movement rights and protections to Union citizens family members, but it shouldn’t be considered as a permanent and stable solution for mothers and women with full-time caring responsibilities. Indeed, it implies that their residency on the EU host Member State territory and all other associated rights are conditional on their relationship with an Union citizen, generally being their husband or partner. That dynamic of dependence is deeply problematic in case of separation or, even dangerous, when the mother or woman is a victim of domestic violence, the conditionality of rights deterring her from escaping such an unsafe environment.
When there is no legal safety net for mothers and women with full-time caring responsibilities, those of them who are combining an economic activity and unpaid care work may also encounter gaps in the rules. In that regard, mothers on maternity leave can retain their worker status up to twelve months, enabling them to maintain free movement rights and protections.
However, mothers still out of the labour market beyond that time frame, for example during the period their children) are of pre-school age, find themselves in a legal limbo. More generally, under article 7, (3) of the Citizens Rights Directive, a worker can retain his or her status in case of illness or vocational training, but not when providing unpaid care work for a child, even in case of illness of the child, which implies a further discrimination.
The Care on the Move event brought together speakers from various domains of expertise, who all enriched the debate. Here is a brief overview :
Many suggestions, with a view to closing the gender care gap in the context of intra-EU mobility, were formulated during the event, including the following key take-homes :
Dr Nina Miller, University of Glasgow Law School. Author of “Caring on the Move: The Forgotten Angle. The Gender Care Gap and Intra-EU Mobility” (2022)
https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/law/staff/ninamillerwestoby/ and event handout
Dr.Alice Welsh, University of York Law School. Author of “A genuine chance of free movement? Clarifying the “reasonable period of time” and residence conditions for jobseekers in G.M.A.”
Professor Charlotte O’Brien, University of York Law School. Author of “Unity in Adversity” : EU Citizenship, Social Justice and the Cautionary Tale of the UK” (Oxford: Hart, 2017).
Professor Anna-Maria Konsta, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Faculty of Law. Author of “Towards a Right to Care in EU Law: Issues of Legitimacy, Gender and Citizenship” (2017).
Dr Adrienne Yong, City University of London Law School. Author of “The Rise and Decline of Fundamental Rights in EU Citizenship” (Hart, 2019).
Professor Nicole Busby, Professor in Human Rights Equality and Justice, University of Glasgow. Author of “A Right to Care. Unpaid Work in European Employment Law” Oxford University Press
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