Is Bulgaria really the best place for women to work?

A research by REBOOT that went viral in the week of International Women’s Day ranked Bulgaria at the top of the chart as the best place for women to work in Europe. Surely, a surprise for a country that usually ranks last or second last in most EU or Europe charts, not to mention that it is often offensively and untruly referred to as “the poorest” among the EU states.

The research takes three main components into account – economic opportunities, maternity leave packages, and women in leadership roles. With 236.6 points, a combined score of all three, Bulgaria leaves behind countries we are accustomed to think of as great places to live in general, let alone for women, like Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark.

But is Bulgaria really a winner on all three components?

A closer look at the breakdown of the results gives us the first “cold shower”- Bulgaria finished mid-table for economic opportunity. Only 46.6 points, whereas – quote – “Dutch women have one of the best gender equality gaps when it comes to money, scoring an impressive 93.3 points when taking into account wage equality and estimated income and coming in third.”. One can argue the Netherlands is, economically speaking, a very different world than Bulgaria. True so. Here’s an example from “our backyard”: Latvia has the fifth best economic opportunities for women.

What about the maternity leave packages? On this point, Bulgaria has always been proud with the opportunity it gives to women to stay with their children for a total of two years, the maximum maternity leave period. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But here are some sobering remarks.

The first year of maternity leave is a high percentage of your salary, but for the second year is a fixed and, honestly, a very, very low sum. Two years staying with your baby may sound marvelous, yet perhaps for two years a lot of your work habits and training will, if not disappear, decrease. And of course, it will be difficult to grow at your job if you take the full leave, just as in any other EU country. The maternity leave period needs a serious redesign not only in Bulgaria but EU wide - countries like the Netherlands go on the other extreme and offer 16 weeks, which is, the least to say, humble, and insultingly insufficient (especially if you breastfeed).

Obviously, nobody forces new mums in Bulgaria to take advantage of the full two years, but when such a period is perceived as a normal situation, it may - and very often does! - have consequences over the local perception and mentality. Somehow, everyone expects you to do it, because, you see, this is the most important job in the world, and excuses such as willingness to work and develop, usually don’t stand a chance. What limits the choice a new mum has even further is the minimum age for a kid to be admitted in a kindergarten - 10 months. If admitted at all, because in the last years big cities in Bulgaria suffer a serious shortage of places, and often parents are forced to use the services of private kindergartens or babysitters.

Lastly, component number 3 – women in leadership roles, 22.1% of women hold leadership positions in the country, the fourth highest of all countries studied (a total of 27). One thing even a moderate cynic like me has nothing to say against ;)

And perhaps, looking at it honestly, the only point Bulgaria truly wins on. As much as some would argue that Communism had a positive influence on gender equality in Bulgaria – as in, women got more rights after 1944 because this was one of the core strategies of the Communists, that everyone must work for the common good, this cannot and is not the only answer. It’s just a nuance. Bulgarian women got voting rights in 1937, nearly 10 years prior to Communist rule. The first elementary school for girls only was opened in 1857, by a woman. A research in March 2020 by Eurostat shows

Bulgaria has the second largest share of women in managerial roles EU-wide, the impressive 49%, only topped by Latvia’s 53%.

I must say, Bulgarian women exceling in leadership roles comes as no surprise - our history, folklore and literature are stacked up with strong female protagonists. Just as with the two years maternity leave period, it is, to a large degree, part of the mentality, and a good one! Something we can really be proud of :) While being so, we can also use the example of all those strong women we learned about or saw in our mothers and grandmothers, and focus our efforts on improving the other two components of the REBOOT research so that one day we can really top not only this chart. 


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