Using Childcare, the Act for Early Years Seeks to Protect Women

By Oyindenyefa Victoria Ige | Jul 25, 2023

In a world where women strive to be involved in politics and policies, the building of firms, businesses and economies; overall global well-being improves as these opportunities become more available to women. Imagine childcare and daycare centres run by the government, affordable to low income households.

Nigeria is known as the giant of Africa and the country of the young with currently over an estimated 213 million people. About 105 million are female and almost half the population are under the age of 15. Last year, UNESCO confirmed a whooping  20 million out of school children in Nigeria.

It is typical, in most Nigerian homes, for women to take up the role of housekeeping, domestic chores, childcare and parenting, emotional support, sometimes even financial management. Lately, they are also expected to contribute to financial provisions.

While the global campaign, The Act for Early Years, calls for investment into early childcare and development, it seeks to protect women as well. 

The Act For Early Years is a global campaign and petition from Theirworld - a global children's charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation - that calls for more investment into early years care and development; making sure early years care and development is seen as a public good and government priority. It has five initiatives and spans affordable, quality child care in the educational sector, health sector, nutrition sector, and even social protection.

Out of the five initiatives, the childcare initiative stands out to me. Childcare points to motherhood; like the care of a child is only meant for mothers, an unwritten rule for the whole world to adhere—no questions asked.

I always looked at my aunties after each baby they had, at how exhausted they always were, at how they all needed a younger girl—preferably their elder sister’s daughter or their older brothers daughter—to assist them in child care and home keeping because it was all too much to ask of one person. 

Most women know before hand that it would be almost impossible to keep working full time after childbirth.

However, 98 per cent of women want to go back to working full-time after having children, but just 24 per cent do. Of that 24 per cent, we are left with 79 per cent who actually maintain that full-time role. (This data is culled from That Works For Me.)

I looked at my aunties and secretly thanked God I was not old enough to be in their position. I am older now, but I'm still not sure I want to be in that position. I want to be a mother, though. Most of us do. Just not with all the unnecessary baggage. Not with the unspoken condition that my career has to suffer. 

We are a world of rigidity and changing the tradition may seem like too much to ask for but what happens when women have more time to care for themselves, extensively build their careers and chase bliss? 

The World Bank estimates in the year 2022, that providing adequate child care for women around the world would add $3 trillion to the global economy every year. (The Act For Early Years Report)

It also points out that: 

The high cost or lack of availability of early years support is the main reason why women leave the workforce sometimes never to return. When this happens it is not only women and families who suffer - businesses lose valuable employees, economies lose productivity, and tax revenues decline.

5 per cent of a woman's earnings drop for each child she has compared to a woman without children. (National Center for Biotechnology Information)  This is what we call "The Motherhood Penalty."

Women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns globally (UN Women) and while men become fathers at exactly the same time as their spouses, women who become mothers face the effects of parenthood more. The motherhood penalty contributes to 80 per cent of the gender pay gap.  And we wonder why economies fall or fail.

A world where the society, policies and the government contributes to the task of early childhood care and development, is a world where women can balance their professional lives and early parenthood. The society contributing could look like releasing the pressure put on women to take up parenting alone. Policies that involve including men on paid leave for child care. Government contributions could include an overhaul of the current healthcare infrastructure, prioritizing early childhood care and development.

WHO records that in 2020, almost 287,000 women died (preventable deaths) in pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria. There is no end to the unacceptable and underlying issues.

We could also talk about how one of the leading cause of under-5 (years) deaths are as a result of pre-term birth. However, when women receive professional midwife-led continuity of care, they are 24 per cent less likely to experience pre-term births. (WHO)

UNICEF also records that 10 per cent of the global maternal deaths are traced to Nigeria.  Having skilled, reliable health workers, and well trained caregivers at childcare centers will ensure optimal growth and development of not just women and children but the society as well.

In 2018, some world leaders in countries like China, the US, South Korea, the UK, made a promise of committing to improve early childhood development by investing 10 per cent of educational funds into pre-primary education. These commitments are yet to be met and the Act for Early Years campaign is a push to revitalize the promises made.

However, this amazing mission cannot and should not be limited to only countries with the highest world economies. In fact, third world countries need this act the most.

Child care centres that are accessible or available and affordable for women from low socio-economic backgrounds or families will go a long way in creating space for women to be more than just childcare workers. It will go a long way to change the world in ways we don't even think is possible right now. 

Child care centres established in quality and adequacy is just the beginning. Every child is OUR child not just HER child. 

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