WS3300 Women in Europe

Week 6 The Contemporary Women's Movement and Social Policy


Defining Social Policy

A broad definition of social policy would be all those areas of government and public policy that are not international, constitutional or economic.
When we think of 'women and social policy' however, we tend to narrow down to those aspects of legislation and provision that differentiate between women and men, according to actual or perceived differences in their social roles.

I suggest that we divide up relevant social policy issues in the following ways

Task for Students
To what extent can we label the first category as concerned with rights, the second with rewards and the third with choices?

What Shapes Social Policy in Europe?

In drawing up and implementing policies on the issues above, governments seem to be influenced by the following

Task for Students
Think of a policy change in the UK that would benefit women.
Taking into account all the factors above, estimate the likelihood of the government supporting it.

Why do different European countries have different policies?

I think we can distinguish between capitalist countries and socialist countries in the period 1945 - 1990.
We can also distinguish between the capitalist countries of Scandinavia, of Western Europe and of Southern Europe and we would expect to find more extensive social provision in the first than the second and in the second than the third because of different levels of economic development and differences in the ideological positions of the main political parties.
And we have to distinguish between the well-established capitalist economies of Western Europe and the transitional economies of eastern Europe and Russia in the period since 1990.

Task for Students
How relevant is the religious orientation of the country in analyising these differences?
Choose an issue for the list above (excluding abortion), briefly research the main differences in policies on this issue across Europe and try to explain them.
How relevant is the relative strength of the feminist movement in those countries?


The importance of abortion rights for women

The demand for the right to safe and legal abortion was an important issue for the contemporary womens' movement. Safe and legal abortion was considered by feminists to be central to women's ability to control their own fertility and to have greater autonomy in their lives.
Until women can control their own fertility, their freedom of choice about other aspects of their lives - paid work, health, relationships - remains limited. Safe and affordable methods of contraception and access to sterilization can be seen as closely related aspects of women's control over their own reproductive capabilities.
We can link reproductive choice to women's health issues generally. When legal abortion is not available, women seek other ways of ending unwanted pregnacies, risking their health and lives. Safe and legal contraception, abortion and sterilization, choice in childbirth and knowledge about how their own reproductive systems work enable women to feel that they have some control over their bodies and are not controlled by their biology.
We can also link women's control over their own bodies to issues of sexual self-determination - to the right to refuse sexual contact as well as the right to engage in heterosexual intercourse without risking pregnancy. The practical separation of heterosexuality from reproduction has an impact on attitudes and feelings too and helps women exercise choice about their sexual relationships and their sexual orientation.

For all these reasons, the demand for access to safe and legal abortion was an issue that could unite women from many different backgrounds and views. Campaigns around abortion rights attracted many women into the women's movement in Western Europe in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Abortion and differences between women

In Eastern Europe at that period, legal abortion was generally available but feminists pointed out that modern contraception was not available and women suffered from the use of abortion as the main means of birth control. Attitudes and conditions in hospitals often had the effect of making women having abortions feel shamed and uncared for.
Black feminists in Britain and the USA particularly, pointed out that Black women were granted abortions in circumstances where White women were often refused, and Black women, especially if dependent on benefits, were often pressurized into being sterilized at the same time.
They pointed out that ethnic minority women in the West and women in 'Third World' countries were often provided with contraceptives, such as Depo-Provera, without being warned of their serious side effects.

Campaigning on Abortion

Campaigning methods included marches and demonstrations, petitions, public declarations by well-known women that they had had illegal abortions, lobbying political parties and parliament, street theatre, public meetings, advice sessions at Women's Centres.
Feminist campaigns to defend the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain led to the formation of anti-abortion organizations - remember that significant numbers of women were involved in such organizations and/or supported restricting abortion rights on relgious grounds.
In recent years in Britain and the USA, abortion clinics have been picketed by anti-abortion protestors and in the USA there have been firebomb attacks and murders of clinic staff.
In those West European countries that have legalized abortion, feminists have had to continue to campaign for abortion facilities to be available in all regions and for the cost of abortions to be paid for by the state.

Abortion Law in European Countries February 1999

EU country Special requirements

FRANCE on request up to 12 wks, parental consent for under 18s, waiting period of seven days, up to 24 wks for risk to life, physical health or fetal health
GERMANY on request up to 14 wks, compulsory counselling, waiting period of three days, up to 16 wks for rape, no time limit for medical reasons
IRELAND only in emergency to save woman's life
ITALY on request up to 90 days (12-13 wks), parental consent for under 18s, waiting period of seven days
SPAIN for rape up to 12 wks, grave risk to mental or physical health up to 22 wks, on approval of two doctors, parental consent for under 18s
SWEDEN on request up to 18 wks, after 18 wks approval by National Health Board
UNITED KINGDOM (excluding Northern Ireland) up to 24 wks for risk to physical or mental health, or fetal health on approval of two doctors

These European countries outside the EU allow abortion on request in early pregnancy:
Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Romania, Russia, Slovak Republic

(Abortion Law Reform Association

Some Useful Web Sites

Abortion Legislation across Europe

Abortion Laws in East Central Europe 2000

Abortion Rights in Poland

Irish abortion poll confuses issue further
Abortion ship ready for Dublin campaign

IPPF European Network

Theoretical Issues

It is often said that we can divide feminist perspectives into those that emphasize the differences between women and men and those that emphasize what they have in common.
If we stress the differences between women and men, we sometimes run the risk of perpetuating gender stereotypes and role differentiations - e.g. we consider women primarily in their reproductive and nurturing role and talk about the needs of working mothers rather than the needs of working parents.
If we always demanded provision for working parents, would it help to undermine the traditional division of labour between women and men in the family? Or would it just disguise the fact that it is mothers who are predominantly responsible for childcare?
If we stress the similarities between women and men in what are still unequal societies, we might be in danger of arguing for equality for women only if they behave like men. But if we always stress inequalities and differences, we can end up portraying women as different sorts of people - less able to compete, weaker and in need of protection, nicer and more nurturing. We may end up denying women the right to resist or to behave badly in society's terms.
And we must always remember that there are inequalities between men as well as between women on grounds of class, colour, religion, disability etc.

Task for Students
What do you think to the arguments above?

Selected Reading


L Dominelli (1991) Women across Continents: Feminist Comparative Social Policy
J Lovenduski (1986) Women & European Politics: Contemporary Feminism & Public Policy
V Randall (1987) Women & Politics Ch 6
P Norris (1987) Politics & Sexual Equality
H Land (1991) "Time to care" in M Maclean & D Groves (eds) Women's Issues in Social Policy
M Glendon (1987) Abortion and Divorce in Western Law 345.0285GLE 1xRS
C Francome (1984) Abortion Freedom: a Worldwide Movement
J Lovenduski & J Oujtshoorn (eds) (1986) The New Politics of Abortion
D Stetson (1994) 'Abortion Rights in Russia, the USA and France' in M Githens et al Different Roles, Different Voices
S Himmelweit (1980) "Abortion: Individual Choice & Social Control" Feminist Review No 5
S Himmleweit (1988) "More than Women's Right to Choose?" Feminist Review No 29
B Rolston (1994) Abortion in the New Europe 344.404192ABO 1xRS
D Stetson (1996) Abortion Politics: Public Policy in Cross-Cultural Perspective 1996


V Randall (1992) 'Great Britain and Dilemmas for Feminist Strategies in the 1980s: the case of Abortion and Reproductive Rights' in J Bystzienski Women Transforming Politics
"Inadequate childcare" Financial Times 13/1/92


C Ungerson (ed) (1990) Gender and Caring: Work and Welfare in Britain and Scandinavia 361.3082GEN 1xRS 2xT
A Leira (1992) Welfare States and Working Mothers: the Scandinavian Experience
E Haavio-Mannila & K Kauppinen (1992) 'Women and the Welfare State in the Nordic Countries in H Kahne & J Giele Women's Work and Women's Lives 331.4WOM
M Eduards (1991) "The Swedish Gender Model: Productivity, Pragmatism & Paternalism" West European Politics
K Kissman (1991) 'Social Policy Perspectives in Norway' Women's Studies International Forum 14\3


L Caldwell (1991) Italian Family Matters 301.420945/CAL 1xRS, 2xD
P Romito (1993) 'The Practice of Protective Legislation for Pregnant Workers in Italy' Women's Studies International Forum 16\6
L Caldwell (1978) "Church, State & Family: the Women's Movement in Italy" in A Kuhn & A Wolpe Feminism & Materialism
L Caldwell (1981) "Abortion in Italy" Feminist Review No 7 1981
E Pisciotta (1986) "The Strength & Powerlessness of the New Italian Women's Movement: The Case of Abortion" in D Dahlerup (ed) The New Women's Movement


R Moeller (1992) Protecting Motherhood: Women and the Family in Post-War West Germany
J Clasen & R Freeman(ed) (1994) Social Policy in Germany
E Kolinsky (1993) Women in Contemporary Germany 1993
N Funk (1993) 'Abortion and German Unification' in N Funk & M Mueller(eds) Gender Politics and Post Communism
4 articles on abortion in Germany in German Politics & Society Winter 1991-92
E Kolinsky (1992) "Women in the New Germany" in G Smith et al (eds) Developments in German Politics


D Stetson (1987) Women's Rights in France
H Mendras (1988) Social Change in Modern France ch 9
W Northcutt & J Flaitz (1985) "Women, Politics & the French Socialist Government" Oct West European Politics
"The French Abortion Debate" Spare Rib No 22 1974
A Batiot (1986) "Radical Democracy & Feminist Discourse: The Case of France" in D Dahlerup (ed) The New Women's Movement
J Jenson (1985) "The Women's Movement & the State in Western Europe"(on abortion reform in France) West European Politics Vol 8 No 4
M Allison (1994) "The Right to Choose: Abortion in France" Parliamentary Affairs Vol 47 No 2
B Winter (1994) 'Women, the Law and Cultural Relativism in France: the Case of Excision' Signs 19\4

Soviet Union\Russia\Eastern Europe

D Atkinson et al (eds) Women in Russia 1977
H Scott (1976) Women & Socialism: Experiences from Eastern Europe
S Wolchik & A Meyer (eds) (1985) Women, State & Party in Eastern Europe
V Perevedentsev (1995) 'Women, the Family and Reproduction in V Koval Women in Russia
A Heitlinger (1987) Reproduction, Medicine & the Socialist State
M Buckley (1992) Perestroika & Soviet Women
M Buckley (1991) "Gender and Reform" in C Merridale and C Ward Perestroika
S White (1991) Gorbachev and After p 79-86
S Wolchik (1991) 'Demography, Political Reform and Women's Issues in Czechoslovakia in M Rendel(ed) Women,Power and Political Systems
M Molyneux (1985) "Family Reform in Socialist States: the Hidden Agenda" Feminist Review No 21
M Molyneux (1994) 'Women's Rights and the International Context: Some Reflections on the Post Communist States' Journal of International Studies 23/2
M Fuszara (1991) "Will the Abortion Issue Give Birth to Feminism in Poland?" in M Maclean & D Groves (eds) Women's Issues in Social Policy
J Heinen & A Matuchniak-Krasuska (1995) 'Abortion in Poland' Women's Studies International Forum 18/1
J Szalai (1988) "Abortion in Hungary" Feminist Review No 29
N Funk (1993) 'Abortion and German Unification' in N Funk & M Mueller(eds) Gender Politics and Post Communism
4 articles on abortion in Germany in German Politics & Society Winter 1991-92
E Kolinsky (1992) "Women in the New Germany" in G Smith et al (eds) Developments in German Politics


"Abortion in Spain" (1982) Spare Rib No 119 June
"Spanish Women & the Alton Bill" (1988) Feminist Review No 29


P Jackson (1986) "Women's Movement & Abortion: The Criminalization of Irish women" in D Dahlerup (ed) The New Women's Movement
V Barry (1988) "Abortion in the Republic of Ireland" Feminist Review No 29

Labour Research Articles

"Abortion: back on the world agenda" Aug 1992
"Do we care for carers?" March 1987
Unions join fight againt Alton Bill" Dec 1987
"The worst childcare in Europe" March 1989
'The NHS Abortion Scandal' March 1991
'Abortion Advance under Threat' April 1990
'Women gain from new Abortion Rules' June 1990

Full Reading Lists on Women and Social Policy

Week 1 /Week 2 /Week 3 /Week 4 /Week 5 /Week 6 /Week 7 /Week 8 /Week 9 /Week 10


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