The gendered and intersectional impacts of the COVID-19 crisis illuminated the urgency for affordable, high-quality universal child care for all. The closure of schools and child care centres have placed parents, particularly mothers, in difficult situations, deepening barriers to fully participate in the economy.
The fight for child care and broader investments in the care economy have been a long-standing struggle in Canada since the 1970s and continues to be a priority for feminist and aligned social movements. Finally, after years of tenacious efforts by advocates, there are monumental wins to celebrate. In Budget 2021, the Federal government committed $30 billion dollars over 5 years to build a nation-wide early learning and child care system. This was the first Budget announced during the pandemic and the first passed by a woman, as Minister of Finance. Since then, bilateral child care agreements were signed in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and more agreements are expected to be finalized later this year. With an upcoming Federal election on the horizon, Canada also promised to invest $100 million in the global care economy.
Last month, YWCA Canada organized an insightful discussion on, “What’s Next for Child Care? Reflecting on Pan-Canadian and Global Progress” moderated by its National Director of Public Policy and Strategic Communications, Anjum Sultana. Leading gender equity advocates from across the nation voiced their hopes of what a brighter future could look like for families and communities.
The conversation kicked off with learning about the journey that led to the wave of victories in British Columbia. Chantelle Krish, Board Director with Minerva Foundation for BC Women, and Strategic Advisor on Advocacy, Equity & Communications commended the coalition of advocates across the province and underscored the importance of policies designed with strong evidence-based research in mind. This was critical to the development of the $10 a Day Plan advocacy campaign. The campaign’s success was attributed to being, in her words– “rooted in evidence, experiences, and best practice”. Krish noted that, as communications change over time, it is important that advocacy campaigns are clear, concise and accessible, especially for those that may not believe in universal systems or aren’t informed.
She also stressed the need for investing in non-profit providers for child care which supports high-quality and inclusive child care that meets the wide range of needs for families and communities from equity-deserving groups. An example of this is YWCA Metro Vancouver’s range of child care programs including targeted supports for teen mothers, which helps them finish high school.
Amy Juschka, Director of Communications & Advocacy, YWCA Metro Vancouver addressed the need for flexible child care that responds to the reality of the labour market such as parents who are engaging in shift work.
However, a child care system cannot provide this service without its educators, the majority of whom are racialized immigrant women and play a key position in uplifting our economy. Despite this critical role, they have been historically underpaid and undervalued, as Juschka echoed. Child care providers are experiencing burn out due to high turnover and low wages impacting the quality of child care and the ability to have a healthy working environment. She suggested that we need to offer programs, training and funding support, allowing providers to access paid sick days and decent wages.
Canada has been creating pathways for newcomers to immigrate to this country and enabling them to participate in the economy, but often, not in fair and equitable systems. “The way that nurses, doctors, teachers are compensated. We really need to be looking at child care workers the same way” Juschka emphasized.
Martha Friendly, Executive Director, Child Care Resource and Research Unit shed light on the current political landscape and how child care plays a role in recovering the economy. The provinces have demonstrated eagerness to focus on women’s care work and bring forth agreements before the federal election, largely due to the pandemic and the relentless advocacy of the child care movement.
Moving forward, it is important that we stay well informed, assess political parties and continue engaging even after press releases, as we anticipate more agreements moving into the “yes column”, Friendly notes.
However, in addition to child care, investing in the global care economy is also a significant part of ensuring a global feminist economic recovery. Amar Nijhawan, Women’s Rights Policy & Advocacy Specialist, Oxfam Canada reminded us that the same issues that exist in Canada, exist internationally. Therefore, we cannot leave out paid and unpaid care policy in COVID-19 response packages.
As Nijhawan’ s stated in her remarks, “women make up 70% of the care workforce globally”, but they are deprived of basic rights to paid work, among other unfair treatments. In fact, many domestic workers around the world are often subject to abuse. Evidently, “a feminist recovery is putting women, people and the planet at the center of our economy” Nijhawan concluded.
With noteworthy knowledge shared, the discussion ended with key take-aways from the panelists:
- A child care system cannot be a “one size fits all” or Eurocentric model. We need quality options that are built on evidence using disaggregated data and diverse lived experiences, including that of BIPOC communities.
- Child care needs to be seen as a public good and human right, not a commodity.
- A healthy economy requires investing in our social infrastructure.
- Our current time is an opportunity to not return to the status quo.
Care work is one of the backbones of our economy, nationally and globally. We need a system that that works for everyone. For the future of care work, this requires a responsive and inclusive public service that invests and designs policy equitably, offering good choices. However, this won’t happen overnight, it is essential that we continue supporting advocates in every way we can to carry on the advocacy momentum.
Missed the event? The full session can be viewed here and be sure to follow the conversation online via the #WhatsNextForChildCare hashtag: https://youtu.be/ZIzNKjTNb48
Teresa Auntora Gomes is the Co-Founder of a women’s non-profit, Sisters Across Oceans. She has a Masters in Environmental Studies, Graduate Diploma in Refugee and Migration Studies, Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and International Development Studies and professional certifications in communications. She is a Yoga and Meditation Teacher and Holistic Health and Wellness Coach. She can be found on Twitter @zenwitht.