Work-Life Reconciliation Policies From Well-Being To Development: Rethinking EU Gender Mainstreaming
Across the European Union (EU), gender policies are cross-cutting initiatives incorporated within the major axes of regional operational programs, and specifically, within active labor-market, local development and inclusion policies. This is the so-called gender mainstreaming across EU Structural Funds, calling for increasing policy instruments integration. The aim of this paper is to understand if and how to improve women’s well-being and subsequently participation in collective action through reconciliation policies. These measures aim to allow women and men to choose how they can reconcile family care, paid work, career advancement, and leisure. The idea is that such a choice implies a time allocation pattern, which is not exclusively determined by market mechanisms and/or policy measures, but also by cultural trajectories, moral values, intrinsic motivations and rules (Folbre, Nelson 2002; North, 2005; Witt 2003), varying across regions and within groups. Furthermore, the outcomes of this choice are not completely internalized as individual well-being but they can also create positive externalities. First, this paper reconstructs reconciliation policies and their governance structures across less-developed regions in Italy (so-called EU Objective 1 areas) within the EU programming phase 2000-2006. Drawing upon this reconstruction, out analysis seeks to account for differences in both contextual conditions and individual characteristics, which, in turn, shape regional development processes. Second, the paper focuses on the design of conciliation policies to unveil what underlying microeconomic premises explain the expected beneficiaries’ behavioural change. Departing from the inadequacy of standard economics, whereby work-life reconciliation would be reduced to a unique choice pattern at the individual level, the paper examines those factors of subjective identities and contextual characteristics that actually affect work-life reconciliation choices, and by this way they can have a development impact (Bowles 1998, Ray, 2000, Sen 1999). In fact, the traditional public choice approach to gender policy may not only perpetuate a male-dominated structure of socioeconomic relations but it may also keep the economy working at a less efficient level. In other words, reconciliation policies may end up reinforcing a path dependent equilibrium of low efficiency, accentuating institutional, economic, social, and cultural traps (Bowles, Durlauf and Hoff 2006). By contrast, our idea is that reconciliation policies can work as development policies as long as they alter current power structures and enhance women capabilities. Building upon this critical review of the existing gender policy framework, we put forward a cognitive framework for work-life reconciliation as a driving force to development.
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