Does ‘the’ social security take sufficient account of women? Are its protection schemes sufficiently aimed at safeguarding
women’s interests? These are the questions I was invited to answer for this handbook on social security law. At the same time
I was asked to adopt an unorthodox approach, one that is more reflexive than strictly legal. This request is not without complications.
To begin with, there is the normativity of the questions at hand. The question whether and, if so, when protection schemes
take sufficient interest in the position of a certain target group is subjective, and people who write about this usually
begin or end their discourse with a personal standpoint. One can wonder whether this is appropriate in a book that is supposed
to be a handbook.
The second complication has to do with the combination of the target group (women) and the concept
of social security. The legal concept of social security was conceived at a time when the context of labour and social risks
was very different from what it is today. This was the case at the time the concept was first ‘invented’, and it was no different
shortly after WW II when social security was implemented as a fundamental right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In order to do justice to the request, I must look for a definition of social security that is broader than the one that is
The third complication is related to the legal scope. The question must be answered in a book on EU law,
which means that the social security schemes in all EU member states might be relevant. That element makes this task extremely
complicated if not impossible to fulfil. After all, the EU is now made up of 28 member states, each with its own social security
scheme. And a description of 28 schemes would be not only tedious, but also far beyond the scope of one chapter. Of course,
one could try to tackle this complication by approaching the member states not as separate entities but as members of a welfare
state family. This approach is not without its risks, however. For one thing, the original typology method (i.e. that developed
by Esping-Andersen) has met with strong criticism, especially from a gender perspective (I deal with this issue later on).
A second possible approach is from the perspective of EU non-discrimination law. A strong position of women in the labour
market and, within this context, the equal treatment of men and women have always been goals of EU social policy, practically
since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. As a result, we now have a vast body of EU law, which is generally referred
to as equal treatment law (hereinafter ETL). The period of hard law instruments (roughly 1960-90) was succeeded by a period
in which EU social policy was dominated by soft law. In both periods, the topic of women and social security (hereinafter
‘women and…’) remained an important focus of EU policymakers. In this chapter, I deal with the two periods successively.
chapter is organized as follows. I first present a theoretical framework in the form of a few notions that are central to
this theme (section 2). In section 3, I describe the development of EU ETL and its impact on social security. In section 4,
I approach the theme from a broader perspective. In this section, the central notions are gender mainstreaming, and work and
family reconciliation policies. In the final section (5), I return to the central question and try to answer it as well as
I can. I deal with social security in individual national schemes only incidentally, as examples or in the context of research
studies by other academics.