Early Childhood Matters 2018

Childcare from the perspective of women informal workers

Rachel Moussié, Deputy Director, Social Protection Programme, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), Paris, France

Women informal workers across the world have set out their demands for quality public childcare services through a campaign organised by the research-action-policy network WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing). The campaign grew out of research in five cities – Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Accra, Ghana; Ahmedabad, India; Durban, South Africa; and Bangkok, Thailand – in which interviews with women in informal worker organisations revealed the extent of the need for quality public childcare services (Alfers, 2016).

Informal employment accounts for more than half of non-agricultural employment in the global South, and more women than men work informally in South Asia (83%), sub-Saharan Africa (74%) and Latin America (54%) (Vanek et al., 2014). Given the size of the informal economy, our approach at WIEGO is to start from the perspective of informal workers and the daily struggles they face to earn a livelihood. Workers want to secure a better future for their children but their long working hours, low earnings and poor working conditions make it difficult to find the time and resources to care for them. As informal workers, most do not receive any maternity protections and are obliged to earn an income even though their infants may be only a few weeks old. In focusing on women informal workers, we are also reaching some of the most marginalised children in urban areas.

Our research explored the childcare arrangements of 159 women informal workers including home-based workers, domestic workers, street vendors and market traders, and waste pickers in the five cities. They all had children under the age of 7 in their care; 82.5% were mothers, 15% were grandmothers and 2.5% were aunts. The type of childcare arrangement chosen depended on the institutional framework governing childcare in each country; social and cultural norms; and differences between individual workers – for example, income levels – and between groups of workers.

In Belo Horizonte, for example, the waste pickers interviewed rely on the public childcare service; however, in Durban and Accra, traders use informal and unregulated childcare services or bring their children with them to the markets if childcare centres are too expensive or of poor quality. Bringing children to work in crowded urban spaces can be dangerous for children’s health and development and is distracting for workers, who see their earnings drop. In Ahmedabad, workers who are members of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) benefit from the childcare cooperative that is adapted to their working hours, providing nutritious food, education and healthcare (Moussié, 2017).

Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage

The research dispelled the myth that women informal workers can always depend on relatives to care for their young children while they work. Women informal workers are reluctant to leave their children in the care of relatives or neighbours because they worry about their children’s safety in overcrowded cities and the lack of stimulation and care they receive. They are also expected to make cash or in-kind payments to those who look after their children. WIEGO research shows that to achieve positive early childhood development outcomes, the needs of the children and the women informal workers caring for them must be considered.

References can be found in the PDF version of the article.

Also in this edition of Early Childhood Matters

Think Future – a gathering of unlike minds in support of early years innovation Innovation Edge is a grantmaking and investment platform focused on the early years. We source and support unconventional ideas that seek to positively transform foundational life experiences for the 4… Read more Read full ECM article
IDELA: leveraging child-centred evidence to change policy, practice and investment As investments in young children increase, fundamental questions remain about which approaches will produce the best outcomes for the most children. Holistic and common metrics are needed to meaningfully compare… Read more Read full ECM article
Moving the needle on employer- supported childcare: from business case research to action In both developed and developing countries, new parents facing the challenge of accessing reliable and quality childcare often have to make a difficult decision – whether to stay in the… Read more Read full ECM article
Why water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are fundamental to early childhood development WaterAid is an international not-for-profit organisation fighting to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere. We transform millions of lives every year. But why is… Read more Read full ECM article
Pollution and child development Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today. Pollution is responsible for 9 million deaths per year – 16% of all deaths worldwide –… Read more Read full ECM article
Lifelong impact of nutrition in the first thousand days after conception Chronic non-communicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity are reaching epidemic proportions worldwide, accompanied by severe impairment of quality of life and huge cost of medical… Read more Read full ECM article
It takes a city: making early childhood a strategic priority in Tel Aviv When our Urban95 programme began to work with the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo, we initially thought about what programmes and activities the municipality might implement. We have since come to… Read more Read full ECM article
Urban95: creating cities for the youngest people Cities can be wonderful places to grow up, but they can also pose serious challenges for healthy child development. The Bernard van Leer Foundation’s Urban95 initiative seeks to make lasting… Read more Read full ECM article
A Better Start: tackling inequity through community-wide action on early childhood development Developmental scientist Clyde Hertzman famously documented how ‘social environments and experiences get under the skin early in life in ways that affect the course of human development’ (Hertzman and Boyce,… Read more Read full ECM article
Using technology to train health workers to treat maternal depression at scale: a new model from Pakistan Maternal psychosocial well-being is important for early child development. In countries where maternal depression is high and there is a lack of mental health specialists, community health workers can be… Read more Read full ECM article