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Early childhood education and child care – STILL central to women’s equality

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To mark International Women's Day, CRRU has created an Issue File on ECEC and Canadian women.

It was on International Women's Day 1986 that Brian Mulroney's Conservative federal government released the Report of the Task Force on Child Care (the "Katie Cooke Task Force") initiated by the previous Liberal government. The Task Force called for a universal system of child care co-funded by federal and provincial governments. The Task Force report recommended that the system of non-profit services be designed and managed by the provinces under national standards, have affordable parent fees, and gradually increase in supply until 2001 when it would serve all children.

The Task Force report was the first federal report calling for a national child care program as an "urgent matter". More than a decade earlier, a 1970 report from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women  made 167 recommendations including establishing a "national day-care Act." Although most of these recommendations were at least partially implemented, the recommendation for a national childcare program was one of the few that went completely unaddressed.

The Cooke Task Force's benchmark year, 2001, came and went eleven years ago yet child care remains a major challenge for many Canadian families.  Still today only a minority of Canadian children have access to regulated child care.

In a 2008 UNICEF report card on early childhood education and childcare (ECEC) provision, Canada scored 25 out of 25 affluent countries.  Canada achieved only 1 of 10 benchmarks for access, quality and financing of ECEC. Meanwhile, the labour force participation rates of women with children have risen dramatically over the last 25 years in Canada.

In 2009, 69.7% of mothers with a youngest child aged 3-5 years were in the paid labour force. Working mothers bear a double workload in society as they face the difficult challenge of balancing work and family responsibilities.

Access to reliable early childhood education and child care is central to women's equality. The 1984 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, headed by the current Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella, said that, "child care is the ramp that provides equal access to the workforce for mothers".

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948) proclaims that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." In 1979, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) - an international agreement that Canada ratified. As a signatory, Canada pledged "to ensure the equal right of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights". In its evaluation of Canada's progress in January 2003, the UN Status of Women Commission recommended that Canada should "expand affordable child care facilities under all governments and...report, with nationwide figures, on demand, availability and affordability of child care in its next report" (Paragraph 380).

Yet Canada failed to address this issue and its compliance with CEDAW was questioned before the Commission again in 2010. Canadian advocates identified the lack of progress on child care, as well as what seems to be a full force attack on women's issues. Under the Harper government Canada's first comprehensive national child care strategy was cancelled in 2006 and Status of Women Canada has been completely decimated. The current government has simply denied federal funds to women's advocacy organizations. The report Reality check: Women in Canada and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action - Fifteen years on, submitted by labour and women's groups, identified "a systematic erosion of the human rights of women and girls in Canada". The report went on to explain that "the changes to gender architecture, the shifts in policy and programming within the government and the government's response to the economic crisis have been felt by the most vulnerable women and girls in Canada."

Access to ECEC is also critical for low-income women to interrupt the cycle poverty and isolation. Women need childcare to pusue training, education and gainful employment opportunities.

Finally, even women who are home full-time often want their chidlren to be a part of quality developmental, social and cognitive experiences outside the home.

Today comparative research and analysis shows that ECEC programs designed around children's interests, development and wellbeing can also support women's equality - if they are well-designed and publicly supported. Programs that are universally accessible and of high-quality can satisfy the multiple goals of maternal employment, child development, social solidarity, social and human capital development-and both women's and children's rights.

This Issue File collects selected readings that describe and document the importance of accessible ECEC to women's economic equality and to their opportunities to fully engage in society. This Issue File is organized into six sections:

 

 

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