The Child Care Initiative

Home-based worker with child
photo: Paula Bronstein, Getty Images/Reportage

Publication: Women Informal Workers Mobilizing for Child Care (English, Español, Français)

On the one hand, informal women workers' low earnings mean they have to work long hours to meet their households’ most basic needs, leaving little time for them to care for children.  On the other hand, without quality child care services women informal workers forgo paid work altogether, or are less productive if they have to look after their children as they work. This contributes to high levels of poverty amongst women informal workers and gender inequalities in labour force participation rates and earnings.

“…there is actually no time for children. Our children do not get the attention that they deserve from us.” – South African trader

In response to the demand from informal workers’ organizations, the Social Protection Programme at WIEGO started up the Child Care Initiative in 2014.  Family benefits are one of nine core work-related contingencies covered under the ILO Convention on Social Security (C102) and the global social protection floors (R202). Alongside maternity entitlements and cash transfers for children, public provision of quality child care services can guarantee informal women workers’ access to paid work that allows them to earn an income and save for the future. Informal women workers have to earn an income when their child or grandchild is young.  Their earnings are an important contribution to the household – especially amongst the poorest households. For children of informal workers, access to quality child care services and more time spent with their parents can lead to better care and positive education and health outcomes.

“Without day care, I can’t work. When there is no day care, I don’t work.” – Waste picker in Brazil

Focus group discussions with women informal workers

As part of the child care initiative, WIEGO conducted a series of research projects including focus group discussions with informal women workers in collaboration with Altimorjam Waste Picker Cooperative in Brazil, the Ghana Association of Markets (GAMA) and the Informal Hawkers and Vendors Association of Ghana (IHVAG), the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, the South African Informal Workers Association (SAIWA), and HomeNet Thailand (HNT).  The findings show that across different occupations from street and market vendors, waste pickers, domestic workers and home-based workers, the lack of access to child care means parents have limited and unsatisfactory child care options. They can take their children with them to work, which can result in exposure to unsafe environments for children and can lead to a loss of income and productivity for women workers.  They may leave them in informal child care arrangements that can be expensive and of varying quality. Family members are not always available to provide child care if workers have migrated, and grandparents may also work, as is the case with HomeNet Thailand members.

Through the child care initiative WIEGO members and partners are starting to explore how child care can be integrated into their organizing efforts. Women informal workers want a quality child care service that is free or subsidized so it is affordable and open during their working hours. Child care workers should come from their communities so that they know and trust them enough to care for their children.  Child care workers and domestic workers, many of whom have child care responsibilities, are most likely to be women informal workers themselves. Their demands for a living wage, training and decent working conditions are central to the provision of quality child care services. Finally, workers must have a say in the running of the child care centre as seen through SEWA’s child care cooperatives.

“I want to know everything related to my children/ grandchildren. We need to have rights and voice in the child care centre that takes care of our children. It’s not like we take [our children] there and resign ourselves to whatever the government would provide for us…Parents must have the right to voice their opinion and to oversee.” – Home-based worker in Thailand

Since its launch in 2014, WIEGO’s Child Care Initiative, has produced several background papers, including a comprehensive literature review on the links between child care provision and women’s incomes.  In the coming years, the ambition is to build up national and international coalitions that bring together labour, women and child rights advocates, social protection networks, researchers and supportive international institutions.  National and international advocacy initiatives will aim to position child care as a core component of social protection for all workers in the hope of expanding child care provision with the support of governments and employers.