The Canadian welfare state was largely built on male-breadwinner/female caregiver norms regarding employment policy, and morally regulative ‘cause of need’ rather than ‘fact of need’ social policy provision that discriminated against particular groups of women, especially those marginalized by race, sexuality, and class (Brodie, 2008, 166; Little, 1998; Valverde, 1991). The dominance of the ‘worker-citizen’ paradigm of a working father and stay-at-home mother as the ideal meant that policymakers tended to cast childcare as a ‘women’s issue’ and primarily as a family responsibility (Dobrowolsky and Jenson, 2004). For those who fell outside the norm of male-breadwinner/female-caregiver norms, such as single mothers, state assistance ‘often involved surveillance, conditionality, social stigma, and low levels of provision’ (Brodie, 2008, 169).
While this gendered institutional order (Ritter, 2007) embodied by malebreadwinner norms and stigmatized social assistance has largely been replaced by gender equality norms in labour markets and in some social policies, vestiges of the previous gendered institutional order continue to linger in government policies and programs. Gendered understandings of the appropriateness of certain government interventions and, in the case of early years policy, the norms of care, have become embedded within governing structures. As such, despite progressively shifting narratives about early years policy—from family-oriented, to women’s rights oriented, to children’s rights oriented—these entrenched norms continue to persist in policies and institutions, even as the original political logics behind existing early years policy have broken down. Reforms have also been resisted by socially conservative actors, including Conservative-led federal and provincial governments supportive of the traditional gendered division of responsibility for care (White, 2017).
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