What would a feminist welfare state look like?

Silius’s article, “Feminist Perspective on the European Welfare State,” offers an in-depth analysis of different welfare systems throughout Europe, specifically in the Scandinavian countries.  She provides a compelling case which supports different welfare systems but she also critiques the flaws within each model.  She examines how the systems empower and oppress women, while simultaneously analyzing the relationship between each welfare system and patriarchy.  Silius concludes by discussing the need for welfare systems to be rooted in taxation and fees.

Her research method was effective in that it provided a comprehensive, comparative analysis of the different welfare states in a select group of European countries.  I also appreciated that she did not come at this research with any specific angle.  She mentions the importance of choosing a perspective and understanding the implications of this, but she does not seem to use this technique with her own research.  However, she followed the same path that many other feminist scholars have already taken.  Her research focused on a group of countries that have already been thoroughly analyzed.  By excluding countries in Eastern, Central, and Southern Europe, Silius’s study is not actually European “in a geographical sense” (43); I feel this may have been a strategic decision and her reasoning could have been justified with a brief explanation in the text.  Also, I would have liked a more proper conclusion.  Rather than offering her own personal opinions on the different welfare systems throughout Europe, she gives her readers enough information to come to conclusions on their own.  Although I recognize the benefits of this approach, I would liked to have heard her thoughts on this matter, particularly because of the contradictory nature of her research.  None of the welfare systems she describes are feminist in every regard, which leads me to my biggest question: Is there any way for a welfare system operated by the state to be feminist?

I feel that this is like a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, governments need to recognize the needs of women and offer them the services they need in order to maintain an adequate lifestyle.  On the other hand, when the state becomes the provider in a woman’s life, she becomes dependent upon government-offered services.  At this point, the woman no longer needs to depend upon male relatives, peers, etc; instead, the state becomes “the new, less visible patriarch” (35).

In my opinion, a feminist welfare state would be one that offered services to all of the people living within their borders, but did not force anyone to accept these services.  For example, if someone prefers to take care of their child at home, they should not have to use the daycare facilities provided by the state.  Under this system, there would also be different options for people in different situations.  For example, if a parent wanted to take off of work to spend time with their newborn child, they should be entitled to do so for a given period while receiving pay.  If the parent wanted to go back to work, daycare services should be provided (for free) in a safe environment.

Of course, this leads to the question of how to pay for all of these services.  As countries such as Sweden and Finland have shown us, heavy taxation does lead to an efficient system.  I feel it would be beneficial to also incorporate a luxury tax and taxes on limited natural resources.  This could also be effective in persuading people to buy less expensive, local goods and would encourage people to think more carefully when using the environment’s resources.

Although women would still be dependent upon the state, I do not see this as reflective of the relationship between a patriarch and the oppressed.  Here, the relationship is mutually beneficial and promotes empowerment rather than oppression.  Overall, I do feel that the state needs to take initiative in providing these services but should also allow space for third-party initiatives and individualism. Discrimination can no longer be justified; the state must recognize the unique needs of different groups of people and act to ensure that these rights are guaranteed.  Although the model I have described is utopian, I feel that it can be achieved with time and dedication.  (Hopefully globalization will not have a negative effect on the progress we are seeing in the Scandinavian countries and others throughout Europe).

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