human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Social economy can ensure women’s rights

On the International Women's Day

At Caritas, we are convinced that social economy can be an alternative to the current economic system by putting people before profit and by offering innovative forms of production, consumption, exchange and financing. We have experienced also that social economy enterprises offer remedies to addressing the ongoing problems women face on the job market, effectively promote the equal treatment and rights among men and women, and ensure more equitable power relations.

The economic inequalities between men and women are still remarkable. Worldwide, while about 40 % of working force are women, they share only 10% of global income.* Currently, in the EU, the employment rate for men stands at 77.4%. Although the employment rate for women has reached an all-time high level of 65.5 % (with big variations across the EU) there is still a significant gap between men and women.


Women face a number of problems in the labour market both impacting their ability to be employed as well as discrimination once employed. Men tend to earn more than women and women are often underrepresented in senior positions within firms, while at the same time they tend to be overrepresented in low-paying jobs and in the informal sector. Employers tend to offer to women more temporary contracts or specific task external contracts than men. As result, women have fewer guarantees to social protection and labour rights. This is despite the fact that women are increasingly better qualified and even out-performing men in terms of educational attainments: in EU 43.9% of women (aged 30-34) had tertiary education or higher compared to 34,4% of men.**

Women usually ensure the care work for their families at cost of their own economic activity, and the capacity of women to be employed or to have a professional growth in their working place depends very much on their access to quality and affordability of the care system (kindergartens, care services for elderly people etc.).

In Caritas we have seen that in many cases the social economy enterprises (SEEs) can address these problems. Some of the SEEs supported by Caritas target specifically women, promoting integration into labour market for vulnerable women, like Elio social laundry in Serbia, or by promoting innovative working conditions that guarantee the balance between family and work duties: this the case of Madgas Services in Vienna.

In general, even if not specifically targeting women, social enterprises create environment sensitive to economic and social needs of people rather than focussing only on profit. They usually develop resources to deliver quality and socially useful services and goods, improving quality of life of the entire community. In this way they contribute to women’s capability in terms of skills and employment taking into account their specific situation.

For many social economy enterprises the main purpose is promoting sustainable jobs by ensuring decent working conditions and equality of men and women at different levels: access to employment, working conditions, wages, etc. In this way they create safe working environment for women contributing to their security and autonomy.

By putting people at the centre, Social Economy Enterprises try to adapt their way of operating according to the wellbeing of the workers. Flexible employment opportunities or specific services developed within the enterprise are an example of innovative solutions designed by the Social Economy enterprises to encourage work-life balance.

The active participation in social economy enterprises has important spill-over effects in terms of women’s emancipation and claims-making in the public and domestic spheres.
Improving the ecosystem in which social economy enterprises can flourish can successfully and effectively ensure women’s rights in labour market and equality between men and women.

This is one of the reasons why Caritas support and manage hundreds of Social Economy enterprises across Europe and advocate the European Institutions and EU Member States for improving financial tools that support social enterprise and for better taking account of the social impact of social economy enterprises to better demonstrate their positive effect on the economy.

Caritas Europa has recently launched a Handbook on how Caritas works on Social Economy. There you can further read about the contribution of Social Economy to Caritas Social Model and to SDGs as well as find a lot of promising innovative practices supported by Caritas members across Europe.


* World bank data
** Source EUROSTAT and research on WLB SSE

Alternative Text


Antonio Fantasia

Policy and Advocacy Officer
Caritas Europa