Maternity in Europe : trapped in a stereotype: a history of a fight with roots and ties
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Women in Europe have long been seen as primary carers and this has significantly influenced their earnings and position in the labour market. The understanding of the importance of women’s participation in the European labour market and tackling the issue of declining birth rates across the continent has created a need for a better balance between paid and unpaid work. However, the change in stereotypes deeply rooted in society appears to be more complicated than expected, even for the European Union that claims to be a pioneer in gender equality. The lost opportunity in defining the relationship between the Pregnant Workers Directive and the Recast Directive seems to be a failure that will be difficult to rectify. The non-consideration of existing economic hierarchies in the reconciliation of work-life balance through the introduction of unpaid leave does not makes achievement of the goal any easier. The changes in society are often recognized by jurisprudence but show slow, gradual progress in challenging the subsidiary role of men in parental duties and the provision of lengthy leaves solely for mothers, which are still held to be compatible with EU law. In this paper I will outline the shape of maternal and parental protection in Europe including the relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights. With the aim of identifying the weaknesses of the legal system of the European Union, I will outline its shortcomings. In doing so, I will illustrate the system using the example of how the Pregnant Workers Directive and Parental Leave Directive were implemented in Portugal and Poland and reveal how, despite limited freedom for Member States in the implementation of the standards, the outcome and results of the introduced measures differ significantly.