The importance of child care to improving economic opportunities for women

August 22, 2017
Shelley Clark, director at the Centre for Population Dynamics at McGill University, delivers opening remarks at the child care conference in Montreal.

Shelley Clark, director at the Centre for Population Dynamics at McGill University, delivers opening remarks at the child care conference in Montreal.

Researchers and practitioners gathered in Montreal on August 11, 2017 to discuss the potential of child care to benefit women through improved economic opportunities and empowerment as part of a one-day conference in Montreal,  “The Global Need for Formal Child Care”.

Organized by McGill University professors Shelley Clark and Sarah Brauner-Otto, the conference was part of the program Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) funded by IDRC, the Hewlett Foundation, and the UK Department for International Development. 

Although evidence suggests that child care arrangements can help women to balance their burden of paid and unpaid work and increase productivity, the growth of accessible and quality of child care has not kept pace with the rising rate of women participating in the formal market worldwide. The lack of child care options is particularly hindering low-income women with children under the age of five.

Conference participants shared research findings from all over the world. The conference was organized into panels centered on the themes of child care use and alternative arrangements, the influence of child care on women’s labour force participation and economic empowerment, and the impacts of child care on child and maternal health.

Presenters included GrOW grantees from the project “Improving child care options to create better economic opportunities for women in Nairobi slums,” led by McGill University and the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), as well as grantees from "The Influence of Affordable Daycare on Women's Empowerment in India" project led by McGill University in partnership with the Institute of Financial Management and Research (IFMR). Findings from the IDRC-supported project “The care economy, women's economic empowerment, and China's inclusive growth agenda” were also presented.

The conference underscored the pressing need for affordable and quality child care globally. “It’s inspiring to me that these issues are gaining momentum in countries like Canada but also in developing counties,” Clark, director at McGill’s Centre on Population Dynamics, said in her opening remarks. “Even though the issues are different, there is a lot of shared knowledge and experience that we can gain from each other.”

The event concluded with a discussion on ways to move the care agenda forward. Future directions considered include deepening understanding of what works to remove women’s burden of care, through measures such as tackling adverse norms and identifying sustainable child care finance models for low-income contexts.

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