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Childcare Policies in Latin America: Focus on Women or Children?

27 Jan 2011

Former UNRISD Research Analyst, Silke Staab, presented a paper at a joint UNRISD/ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America) seminar in Santiago on 7 January 2011, entitled “Politics of Care and Development”. Participants at the event addressed important questions concerning the development of national policies in the area of preschool education and care in the region, especially their potential in addressing both children’s and adult women’s rights and needs.

Staab’s presentation, pertaining to the UNRISD project Political and Social Economy of Care, focused on childcare programmes in Chile and Mexico. It drew from a jointly authored paper (with Roberto Gerhard, a former UNRISD Visiting Fellow), Childcare Service Expansion in Chile and Mexico: For Women or Children or Both?, published last June. The UNRISD project on Care, which ran from 2006 to 2010, conducted comparative research on the organization of care in Latin America, Asia and Africa, exploring the role of state, market, family and community.

Forty-five participants from governmental agencies, international organizations, academic centers and NGOs attended the seminar. There were also 20 ECLAC staff members present and 18 “virtual” participants who followed the seminar online.

State-sponsored childcare programmes in Chile and Mexico have two principal objectives: to promote child development and to enable female participation in the workforce. Though both countries have responded with an overall expansion of services, their approaches vary notably. Mexico’s Federal Daycare Programme for Working Mothers essentially subsidizes community- and home-based daycare to facilitate the employment of low-income mothers. The programme targets poor women rather than children and does not pursue explicit educational aims. Meanwhile, female employment occupies a secondary place in the Chilean government’s programme objectives, although it has been encouraged and the expansion of childcare has been perceived as crucial to achieve it. The crèche component of “Chile Crece Contigo” has instead been presented mainly as a strategy to invest in the capabilities and equalize the opportunities for children from low-income families.

Other speakers included Nieves Rico, of ECLAC’s Social Development Division, who presented recent developments in Uruguay, where the government has developed plans for an integrated national care system which includes plans for expanding childcare and preschool services, enhancing family allowances and introducing parental leaves. Sonia Montaño, Director of ECLAC’s Gender Division, focused mainly on why the interest in childcare services – a historical demand of the women’s movement in the region – has re-emerged in recent years. Finally, Martin Hopenhayn, Director of the Social Development Division, presented a simulation exercise of the impact of increasing government spending on cash transfers and educational services on household poverty and educational attendance.

In general, the ECLAC/UNRISD presentations centered on the importance of childcare for social development, social protection and gender equality in Latin America. Differences in policy design have important implications in terms of the opportunities the programmes are able to create for women and children from low-income families and the prospects for mitigating—or reinforcing—existing gender and class inequalities. Across the region, continuing challenges include enhancing the reach, guaranteeing equity in access to quality services, ensuring their sustainability and improving working conditions and wages of childcare workers.

For further information, consult the link to online presentations and materials from the seminar on the ECLAC site.