Levie is one of the entrepreneurs behind the sausages of Brandt and Levie, his wife Heidweiller coach in the field of work and life. Together they had two children, ages three and five. She felt that the bulk of the household rested on her shoulders and that she could not work enough on her career.
“I worked hard and tried not to get too distracted by family life,” Levie says. She pointed it out, he thought it was ‘bitch’. “In retrospect, that sounds ridiculous,” said the busy entrepreneur. But they couldn’t figure it out, as many in their area now say.
Healthcare participation up
The tug-of-war became a quest and the quest turned into a book, titled ‘Forever and Forever (But Only When You’re Doing the Dishes)’. When Heidweiller ended up in the hospital for a long time during her second pregnancy, Levie said he only noticed how much his wife actually did at home. And that it had to be different.
“If we strive for a society in which we strive for equal labor participation between men and women, then the care participation of men must increase,” says Levie.
Heidweiller has that worry from her mother, she says. “She worked outside the home and was head of the household, when I had children I started doing that too.” Not only physically, but also the thinking: from planning before (and after) school to thinking about what to put in the diaper bag. “A lot of it you don’t see, but it happens.”
Not that Levie didn’t do anything, says Heidweiller. But the proportions were skewed and that is the case in many Dutch households. Corona briefly seemed to ensure that the tasks were distributed more evenly, but now we are back to square one, say almost two-thirds of the couples in a recent study by universities.
‘Bad for the child’
On average, men work longer hours than women and women care more than men, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP).
This imbalance is not desirable, says Heidweiller, who spoke to various experts about the subject. For the father who wants to be more of a father, the mother who is less financially independent and for the child who develops better with two actively educating parents.
“It’s not whining. Men don’t take that care role enough and we have to make that a topic for discussion,” she says. “Both socially and at home.”
Who does what?
Levie and Heidweiller already did that at home. They literally sat down for it and still do. To make lists of who actually does what and to discuss what is bothering them. “Making the invisible visible.” To eventually arrive at a better distribution so that Heidweiller could also work on her career. “It worked.”
One of the biggest stumbling blocks of the distribution is money. Because if you work less and care more, you lose financially. Can you give up part of your wealth in exchange for well-being? And if so how much? You can make the calculation with tools, such as those from Nibud.
‘Sum is not easy’
The sum is not always easy, says Suzan Steeman of WOMEN Inc., an organization that works for gender equality. Moreover, the choices you make in the distribution are not completely free. Issues such as policy and culture also influence it. “We know that many heterosexual couples want to divide the tasks equally, but with 10 percent that is only possible.”
Breaking through is up to you, the culture and the system. “There’s no right order, but as far as we’re concerned, it starts with the system and the laws,” Steeman says. By way of illustration, she points to Sweden, where thanks to a generous policy – with free childcare and half a year of almost fully paid leave for mother and partner – a more equal distribution has been created.
‘well on the way’
Such rules are also desirable for the Netherlands, believes WOMEN Inc. “We are well on the way, but we are not there yet,” says Steeman. The additional partner leave has been expanded in recent years and will be partly paid by the UWV for the first nine weeks from August 2022. Now that is five weeks at 70 percent of the (maximum) daily wage.
However, the leave is still being taken up sparsely. “The 70 percent fee isn’t appealing to everyone,” Steeman says. An opinion that also shares the trade union FNV: the union argues for a compensation of at least 80 percent. WOMEN Inc. goes one step further: fully paid leave makes it more likely that both parents will also take it.
There are also only a limited number of employers in the Netherlands who financially supplement the leave scheme to, for example, 90 or 100 percent. “Your employee is also a caregiver, you don’t just leave that at the front door. Start the conversation.”
Childcare should also be more affordable, ‘partly free’ and less complicated. “Abolish the allowance system,” says Steeman.
In the end, many men would also like to care more and work less, Steeman knows. “There is still a lot to be achieved in the emancipation of men,” she says. Now, just after the birth of a child, there is a big difference between mother and partner. “You almost don’t get that anymore.”