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  • Writer's pictureДиана Манолова

Time is the scarcest resource for women in our society country.

According to our latest survey, women caregivers in Bulgaria need time and work-life balance.



In the autumn of 2023, we asked women in Bulgaria who care what their biggest need is. Almost half of the participants answered with one word—"time"—and then added "self-care."


Read the article below for all the conclusions we drew from the survey.


The Impact Drive Foundation's research, funded by The White Ribbon Alliance, focuses on the hidden challenges facing working-age women in this country. It found that women's retention of traditional roles, the burden of career advancement, and unpaid domestic work outside of work leave a deep imprint on their daily lives and well-being.


"What is it you need the most?" - how quickly can you answer this question? Can you answer at all, or do you need time to think? The analysis centered around needs defined in one specific question is a research methodology that opens up the opportunity to listen to our target audiences while also providing opportunities to explore the needs of a community in relation to a specific topic.


 


"I'm Anita Joyce. For me, daycare - services like daycare, preschool, and childcare need to be affordable, quality, and flexible/hourly. This will give me and other women like me the freedom as mothers to get on with our social and professional lives without worrying about what hands we are leaving our children in and whether there is anyone to entrust them to. Our country needs a smooth transition between motherhood and the return to work."


 

Women's active participation in the online survey reveals their willingness to share and seek understanding about their experiences. At the same time, despite the simplicity of the survey, which requires participants to articulate their primary needs, articulating this need is not easy. It goes through an internal process that, on the one hand, engages women, sometimes for the first time, to focus on themselves and then respond, taking everyone else (family, children, loved ones) out of the equation and putting the focus back on themselves. This process is clearly evident in the responses to the questions, which range from "Time" and "Getting some sleep" to "Learning to take care of myself" and "Not losing myself," to deeply felt needs related to emotional care and psychological support.



A key theme emerges from the analysis of the surveys - 'time.' Out of 256 responses, 117 directly mentioned time in different contexts - from time in self-care to personal growth, solitude, socializing, hobbies, sports, and travel to time for rest and personal care. The theme is supported by the other main focus of the responses, which is self-care as an individual, again through nuances such as rest, social contact and personal interests, growth, health, and emotional state - 86 responses or almost 35%.


 

"I need the right to care for myself without feeling guilty."


 

The overburdened nature of female caregivers is also evident in the high number of responses related to the need for "rest" or "support" to balance household responsibilities—about 28% of respondents. Alongside this, the strong need for recognition of women's unpaid work is evident. Sixty-three responses, or 24.6%, related to the need for support, empathy, and respect.



 

"I need to feel that caring is not taken for granted, an obligation on my part."


 


Women aged 18 to over 70 from across the country participated in the study. The need for "time" was recognized by all age groups of respondents, but logically, most responses were in the 30+ and 40+ age categories and mostly in urban areas.


Responses relating to 'looking after themselves' and variations on the need for 'support' are distributed in the same proportion. This finding highlights the universal struggle against modern women's overwhelm and lays the foundation for further research and action to support women in the country.


Consistent with the responses received for time, rest, support, and recognition in caregiving, women expect this need to be met primarily by members of the family circle. On the survey's ancillary question, "Who should support you most for your needs?" Over 69% answered, "Family."



 

Although timid, the survey also reveals a lack of solutions to offer psychological support, flexible working conditions, and work-life balance.


Although some responses emphasise the need for 'security' in the context of financial stability and trust in social systems, there is also a clear call for improvements in social services, health and education, with over 21% of responses directly asking for better health and social services related to raising children.


Respondents' answers present public problems that require a complex response from the community and institutions: "...normal streets, sidewalks and access to transportation by wheelchair. Using public transport for a single person with a baby or wheelchair is from hellishly difficult to impossible at times", "Adequate system for minor health ailments.", "Not hanging out in front of GPs" and "Security in organisations offering care". Some responses directly push for more profound systemic change. Consequently, the structures of the social, education, and health care systems and public authorities are burdened with high expectations to meet the needs of those responding.



Serious expectations are also placed on employers, who are expected to provide the necessary financial stability and security and recognize the specificities of caring for children or other family members. The study presents a clear, emerging trend to seek a balance between work and family life. Responses include requests for "Work positions that are compatible with caring for young children," the need for "Security that I will not lose my job while caring for my children while they are sick", "Flexible ability to combine work with child and parent care," and specific requests to develop new, more flexible working relationships "4 hour days but not half pay. I give the example of the Netherlands, where many people work half-time or 32 hours a week with the right tax laws, but the net salary remains almost unchanged."


 


"I am Zdrava Vodenicharova. I am a working mother of two wonderful children - Vihra and Pirin. Having children is a blessing and a challenge. Despite the extended maternity leave that Bulgaria is famous for and the free-standing kindergartens, not all of us can take advantage of them. Kindergartens are highly competitive, and admission is difficult, with insufficient places for all children. My whole family supports our children, and we all share responsibilities. Yet... my need is to travel. I need time to travel as it's a break from duties."


 

The demand of those participating in our survey continues and is directed towards sharing information about personal care, spiritual growth, and emotional and psychological support, both personally for the respondents and for the children and their family members. It highlights the need for sharing and exchanging information and solutions, empathy, and mutual support.


In conclusion, this study provides a deep insight into the lives of women caregivers in Bulgaria and serves as a catalyst for public and political dialogue. It reveals the urgent need to develop and implement policies and programs that address changes in the established career and social care arrangements for two-parent working families and single parents. Creating a supportive environment that facilitates access to resources, psychological support, and flexible working arrangements can significantly improve the quality of life of women carers and contribute to a healthier and more just society.


This is where our role as Impact Drive Foundation comes in: to share the information we have gathered with the general public. It will become the basis for our activities in the future. As the next steps, we are starting to structure specific topics and ideas for advocacy and project activities that will allow us to address the issues identified. In particular, some of the activities that are in the process of development or planning are:


  • Creating support mechanisms - women's sharing and support circles, support in ensuring work-family balance, training mentors, etc.

  • Promotion of workplace equity, taking into account the needs of carers (including men and women) - follow-up on the implementation of EC Directive 1158 on work-life balance for parents and carers

  • Campaigns to dispel myths and stereotypes about the role of women.

  • Raising awareness of the realities of the distribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women in the country and the inequalities this leads to, including the associated unequal pay for equal work (gender care pay gap).

  • Building leadership and management capacity development programs focusing on reconciling life roles and work-life balance.


 

Would you also like to participate in the survey and share your needs? Our questionnaire is still open; fill it in here: https://bit.ly/3Pj8B0A

 

The study was supported by The White Ribbon Alliance (USA) as part of their global campaign to address the needs of women caregivers.






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