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Gender, Institutions, and Solidarity: The Struggle for a Motherhood Insurance in Sweden and Germany
2000 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This paper examines the paradoxes of maternalist politics in Sweden and Germany at the turn of the century. Feminist scholarship on maternalism has convincingly demonstrated the importance of policy measures directed to women and children as well as women’s political agency for the early welfarestate formation. It has also provided us with insights into the limitations and failures of maternalist strategies due to different political opportunity structures as well as conflicting concepts of maternalism within women’s movments itself.

In comparative historical perspective Sweden and Germany are usually portrayed as similair cases of well developed welfare states, with weak women’s movements however, and therefore strong paternalist policies, directed to women as dependents rather than in their own right as women and mothers. The difference between the two countries with regard to gender policies is considered to be a later phenomenon, due to the divergent paths of conservative and socialdemocratic welfarestate formation. This paper challanges such a view in several respects. The similairity of both countries refers to similair – as compared to the United States and Great Britain - trajectories of social development: the tradition of a strong bureaucratic state, a weak liberal bourgeoisie, and an early political mobilization of the labour movement. With regard to the early welfare state Sweden and Germany have produced quite divergend institutional solutions, which cannot be conflated into „paternalism“. From the outset both countries differed considerably, as will be argued in the paper, when it comes to gender. Inquiring maternalist policies and politics, no easy equatations – such as between „good“ policies and „strong“ women’s movments - can be made. The analysis of the struggle for a motherhood insurance in Sweden and Germany reveals a rather contradictory and paradox picture.

Germany was the first country to invent a paid maternity leave. The sickness insurance law of 1883 - introducing a mandatory insurance for factory workers – included a payment for the period of three weaks after delivery. This maternity benefit was extended in the following years in correspondance with the protective labor legislation, which regulated the maternity leave for female factory workers. The campaign for a motherhood insurance, which started after the turn of the century, was carried by a variety of political forces with quite different motives. In its most radical version the concept aimed at an comprehensive insurance plan, which would give benefits to all mothers, not only to factory workers and not just for a couple of weeks after delivery but for a much longer - up to one or three years –period of time. Such an insurance was not only considered fiscally utopian. The more moderate bourgeois women’s movment opposed such a motherhood endowment on more fundamental grounds. Enableing women to become mothers without depending on men, such an institution would lead to a dissolution of the family, or even, as Alice Salomon feared, to the distruction of loving relations between men and women. She favored therefore a more „practical“ solution, e.g. the extension of the benefits to other professional groups. The principle, that the benefit should be a replacement for the loss of wages and not a payment for motherhood was central to this concept. With the reformact of 1911 (Reichsversicherungsordnung) major improvments of the paid maternity leaves within the sickness insurance were enacted. At that time the German welfare state included the best maternity benefits - when measured as coveragae rate of the female population and the duration of payments – in the industrilized world. In the long run however benefits for mothers were locked in an institutional logic based on principles of solidarity, which were rather hostile to the rights of women as mothers. Not only was motherhood treated as a sickness, the benefits were constructed according to criteria – professional status groups, replacment of the loss of wages – which were external to the social conditions of motherhood, creating different categories of mothers.

The Swedish development took quite a different course. Compared to Germany, Sweden was a late comer with regard to regulations for mothers. A maternal leave was enacted in 1900. Because Sweden had no compulsory sickness insurance at that time, a law proposal for the introduction of an own motherhood insurance for female factory workers was elaborated in order to compensate for the loss of wages. In case the law would have been enacted in 1912, the motherhood insurance would have become the first branch of mandatory social insurance introduced in Sweden. However, the government never presented the law to the parliament. This was also due to an outspoken opposition of the different strands of the women’s movment. They rejected the plan because of its mode of finance. According to the proposal the insurance should be financed mainly with contributions from the employees and female factory workers in the age of 15 to 50. The women criticized the plan also because the benefits were restricted to women factory workers. They demanded payments for all mothers, but at least for all working women. The sharpest protests however were directed against the financing principles in which the fathers were left aside and women treated as en enforced community of solidarity. The Swedish debate on the motherhood insurance demonstrates the limitations of maternalism as a political strategy. Swedish women explicitly rejected the notion there can be solidarity among women based on the experience of maternity, which could give rise to redistributional policies. The failure of the motherhood insurance project finaly refers to structural limitations of justice within market society and social insurance institutions forged on this principles: Motherhood is simply not an insurable risk as sickness, accident or olde age. It has no „value“ and it is not a „damage“ to compensate for. The Swedish women were strong enough to prevent the institutionalization of a program which, as they percieved, was based on false solidarities. They had to wait for more than twenty years, until in 1931 a tax financed program was implemented, which - far from solving all problems of justice for mothers – laid the ground for much more mother friendlier policies, than in Germany

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2000.
National Category
Gender Studies Social Sciences Interdisciplinary History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-39119OAI: oai:DiVA.org:sh-39119DiVA, id: diva2:1358020
Conference
3rd European Social Science History Conference, Amsterdam, April 12-15, 2000.
Available from: 2019-10-06 Created: 2019-10-06 Last updated: 2019-10-07Bibliographically approved

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