Unpaid care work and gender equality in EU Law: Evaluating EU Social Policy and EU Free Movement of Persons Law

Miller Westoby, Nina (2021) Unpaid care work and gender equality in EU Law: Evaluating EU Social Policy and EU Free Movement of Persons Law. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The focus of this thesis is the relationship between gender, care, and EU law. Gender equality and unpaid care have featured in EU policy making for decades. Through the evolution of the EU Social Policy agenda of “work-life balance” the EU has had a positive impact on advancing gender equality and the more equal allocation of unpaid care work. However, progress has not always been consistent or coherent and there have been setbacks and periods of stagnation. Demographically, gender equality in the EU is improving at an extremely slow pace and the majority of unpaid care work continues to be done by women, impacting, amongst other things, women’s economic independence.

The aim of this thesis is to evaluate how the EU is responding, in law and policy, to the gendered allocation of unpaid care, and how far the EU is advancing gender equality in this context. To do this this thesis adopts a socio-legal approach combining doctrinal research with interviews held with members of civil society organisations. Two fields of EU law are explored. The evolution and most recent developments in the EU Social Policy agenda of “work-life balance” are studied, up to and including the Work Life Balance Directive 2019/1158 which was adopted by the Council in 2019. EU Free Movement of Persons Law is also studied for the impact that the rules have on women with caring responsibilities. This responds to a reported neglect in EU legal scholarship on the gender dimension of intra-EU mobility. The interviews explore the impact of the EU law rules on the ground. They also explore the processes of policy and legal reform in each field from the interviewees’ perspectives with a view to anticipating the potential for progress towards gender equality and the fairer allocation of unpaid care work in the context of EU law in the future.

Two overarching questions have been developed that structure the analysis throughout this thesis. These questions are firstly, to what extent is unpaid care work visible in EU law and policy? Secondly, how far do the legal rights transform the gendered roles associated with unpaid care work, and how far do they entrench them? The development of these two questions was informed specifically by the work of Nancy Fraser and more generally by a feminist ethic of care. These two questions have enabled the study of two areas of EU law and policy, that are very different in their treatment of the subjects of gender and care, to be conducted in a consistent and illuminating way.

This thesis found that through the innovation of studying the two fields of law together the similarities, shared challenges and contradictions of these two fields could be interrogated. The narratives that emerge from the study of these two fields are very different. Most prominently, this thesis found that despite a period of stagnation the field of EU Social Policy has been invigorated and at the heart of the most recent developments is care. However, there remain shortcomings in the scope of the rights which limit their ability to affect significant change in the context of the gendered allocation of unpaid care. Secondly, despite the gender-neutral quality of the free movement of persons rules, the legal framework, as interpreted by the Court of Justice of the EU, currently entrenches a regressive gender order which is negatively impacting women with caring responsibilities when she is exercising her right to free movement. Furthermore, this thesis finds that the neglect of the gender dimension of intra-EU mobility extends beyond the scholarship and legal framework to EU and UK civil society and informal policy making and legal reform processes. As such there is a need for further work that will increase awareness among actors engaged in the field of EU free movement of persons law on how the legal rules are impacting women if there is to be progress in the future on gender equality and the more equal allocation of care work in the context of EU law. In this way this thesis provides a platform for the EU and civil society to address and respond to the shortcomings and inconsistencies in its approach to equality between women and men.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Law
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Mair, Professor Jane and Fletcher, Miss Maria
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82276
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2021 06:42
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2021 14:33
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82276
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82276

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