Global childcare crisis and the road for post-covid-19 recovery and resilience
A year into the pandemic, we are no longer just worrying about progress on women’s equality coming to a standstill. We are now seeing the possibility of such progress being reversed. The devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on women’s livelihoods cannot be overstated. Globally, women tend to work in low-paying jobs and in the informal sector - precarious employment that has been upended by lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions.
Adding another layer to this burden, women’s unpaid care work is soaring. The childcare crisis is at a tipping point. Childcare must be addressed within our Covid-19 recovery plans both to advance gender equality and because it makes fiscal sense. In addition to reducing the undue burden of care, affordable and quality childcare frees mothers up to participate in the labour force and creates decent jobs for women in the childcare sector.
Fiscal space is shrinking due to Covid-19 but limiting spending on care work would be short-sighted. When more women work, economies grow. Currently, gender gaps in labour force participation in OECD countries cost the economy about 15% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The evidence review on the global childcare crisis was produced in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) East Africa initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FemDev and the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) an initiative of LEAD at Krea University.
The study adopted a collaborative and iterative methodology, engaging team members from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IDRC, and IWWAGE, as well as childcare experts at civil society organisations, multilateral institutions, universities, and research institutes from around the world. A mixed-methods approach was used, including a desk review of available evidence, key informant interviews, and a virtual consultation with experts. Data collection and analysis took place between July 2020 and February 2021.
The childcare crisis
The review shows that only 8 percent of global economic responses have addressed unpaid care, including childcare, and two-thirds of countries have enacted no measures whatsoever. Since the onset of Covid-19, almost 90 percent of the world’s countries have closed their schools, affecting the education of 1.5 billion children and escalating the volume and intensity of childcare. And, unsurprisingly, women are taking on the brunt of this extra work: women in most countries are currently spending more than 30 hours per week on childcare, nearly the equivalent of a full-time job.
The most marginalised of women are those hardest hit by this childcare crisis. Low-income women who lack access to time-saving technology are having to dedicate much more time than their high-income counterparts to home-schooling. Worst affected by the crisis are women in the informal sector with no paid leave, social protection, or ability to work remotely; women living in rural areas with limited access to time- and labour-saving equipment, public services, and infrastructure; women living in poverty; single mothers; essential workers; adolescent girls; and women who belong to minority racial and ethnic groups.
Simultaneously, the female-dominated childcare sector risks collapsing. Rising poverty levels (resulting in parents’ inability to pay for childcare services), lockdowns, and fears of exposure to the virus have led to a steep drop in demand for both formal and informal childcare services. Childcare facilities are closing in droves, creating a longer-term reduction in supply of and access to quality and affordable childcare services and decreasing the number of jobs available in the childcare sector.
The way forward
This paper has recommended a range of policy solutions and measures available to tackle the Covid-19 exacerbated childcare crisis and pave the road for post-Covid-19 recovery and resilience with emerging examples from several countries and regions. These include, investing in gender-responsive public services, reopening schools and childcare facilities safely, increasing childcare support for households, shifting social norms around childcare, introducing or expanding family and health-related leave policies, increasing employer adoption of family friendly workplace arrangements and policies, collecting more and better data on childcare.
Additionally, the authors make the case for improving the working conditions of care providers by improving public and private financing for the childcare sector, improving support to centre-based childcare workers and improving support to domestic workers, and guaranteeing care workers’ representation with employers and the state.
Together, these recommendations are aimed at promoting a comprehensive childcare agenda and at recognising the provision of quality childcare as a societal responsibility - as opposed to women’s responsibility alone.
This paper was produced in partnership by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) East Africa initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FemDev, and the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) an initiative of LEAD at Krea University.
(The study has been authored by Kate Grantham and others)