Results of gender equality research have very limited impact on cantonal legislation
Fiscal policies and social transfer measures hold the potential to improve the compatibility of paid work and family commitments. But cantonal authorities do not sufficiently consider the available knowledge. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by the National Research Programme “Gender Equality” (NRP 60).
Gender equality is affected by policies in many areas, one of which is fiscal policy. Switzerland's federal system makes it difficult to fully understand the impacts of fiscal policy and social transfer mechanisms, such as social benefits, health insurance support payments and child-care subsidies on single parents or couples with children. The regulations vary from one canton to the other. Generally, there are financial disadvantages for couples who share paid work. This is problematic both in terms of gender equality and economic policy. Coordinated fiscal policies and social transfer mechanisms hold the potential of improving the compatibility of family and paid work as well as boosting gender equality in the job market and the family.
Limited awareness of latest results
In the context of the National Research Programme "Gender Equality" (NRP 60), researchers from the University of Lucerne and the consulting firm Interface undertook a novel analysis: they wanted to know how information gained by research impacts on legislative processes in the areas of fiscal policy and social transfer mechanisms. After analysing 60 policy changes between 2008 and 2011 and conducting structured interviews with cantonal experts, they evaluated to what degree the latest scientific insights were considered by the authorities formulating new regulations. They focused on legislative processes which influence gender equality in the sense of improving the balance of paid work and family life.
The researchers discovered that the cantonal authorities made an assessment of the impact of each policy change, although only half of these assessments focused on questions relevant to gender equality. Reports by external experts were commissioned only in 7 out of the 60 legislative processes. In 44 cases, colleagues from other cantonal authorities were consulted. Political scientist Andreas Balthasar has identified two laws which exemplify how information relevant to gender equality can be taken into account: the law on family-support institutions in the Canton of Fribourg and the revised fiscal law in the Canton of Uri (both 2011).
Reaching out to politics
Interestingly, about half of the offices responsible for the legislative process indicated that they were aware of studies relevant to gender equality. But there is little sign that the arguments of these studies came to bear on the legislative process. On the basis of this, the researchers have concluded that scientists need to make their results more transparent and offer information geared specifically to policymakers. In addition, they recommend that the administrative authorities participate more strongly in the legislative process, i.e. that they get involved in finding solutions and not only execute political decisions. It would also make sense if cantonal gender equality experts were consulted more frequently on legislative processes. Balthasar believes that there are approximately twenty opportunities per year to address gender equality issues at cantonal level.
The researchers have compiled a brochure of 30 relevant studies on the subject. It is available in German and French.