October 11 is International Day of the Girl Child, and there are many reasons for optimism: more girls are in school, and girls are staying in school longer and performing better.
But many girls still face barriers that impact their ability to lead fulfilling and productive lives, including dropping out of school and being pressured into child marriage and adolescent pregnancies. As girls grow up, the disproportionate burden of care can impede their transition to higher education or the workforce, and for those who make the transition, the burden of care often forces them out of the labor market. Globally, an estimated 606 million working-age women consider themselves unavailable for employment or are not seeking a job because of unpaid care work, compared to only 41 million men. These lost opportunities are tragic for individual girls and collectively devastating to countries’ human capital and economic and social development.
Today, far too many families do not have access to quality childcare. The World Bank estimates that 40 percent of all children below primary school entry age – 350 million children- need childcare but do not have access. Expanding access to childcare could help create a virtuous cycle and be a win-win-win for individual girls and women, their families, businesses and economies. Let’s look at the potential benefits, both immediate and longer term.
Increasing access to childcare can relieve the care burden from older girl siblings
Too many girls are either taken out of school to provide care or have their ability to study and succeed in school diminished by care responsibilities at home. In 46 countries worldwide, 63 percent of girls reported an increase in household chores during COVID-19 (compared to 43 percent of boys), and one-in-five girls reported having too many chores to be able to learn.
Expanding access to high quality childcare can help change this. In Mozambique, for example, the establishment of community-based childcare and preschools meant that older siblings were 6 percent more likely to be enrolled in school. This will yield immediate benefits for girls who can stay in school and will also yield better outcomes for adolescent girls, for whom staying in school longer may help in delaying marriage and first pregnancy. Educated girls become educated mothers, who are more likely to have educated daughters.
Increasing access to childcare enables mothers to enter or remain in the workforce and increase their earnings and empowerment
Higher family income, especially when earned by women, positively affects both women and their families. In Burkina Faso, an impact evaluation of a mobile creche program showed that affordable childcare in urban areas improved women’s employment and financial outcomes, in addition to improving child development scores. Evidence from a range of countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, India, Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or through cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit families, and especially children, with increased spending on education, health, nutrition, or housing. Increased income can also lead to subjective gains in the well-being of women. The childcare sector itself is also a potential source of employment, with recent World Bank estimates suggesting at least 43 million jobs could be created in the childcare sector worldwide.
Childcare prepares children to succeed in school
Expanding access to quality, affordable childcare can help ensure that young girls (and boys) are in safe and stimulating environments that prepare them to succeed in school and beyond. But the word “quality” here is critical. Not any childcare works, and low-quality investment can even have detrimental impacts. Countries must invest wisely and ensure that all personnel working in childcare care centers have the appropriate training and support commensurate with the responsibility they have.
The benefits of quality childcare and early learning include improved school readiness, reduced repetition and drop-out rates, and higher achievement in school. Quality childcare also helps keep children safe and can be used to reach children with other health and nutrition services. For instance, evidence suggests that community-based childcare reduced mortality in rural Bangladesh, including drowning and injuries. There is also emerging evidence that being in a childcare setting can positively impact nutrition outcomes. For example, in Guatemala, children attending childcare ate more nutritious foods—their intake of nutrients such as protein increased by 26 percentage points, iron by 22 points, and vitamin A by 85 points.
Expanding access to quality, affordable childcare is among the most important and cost-effective investments that countries can make to build human capital, accelerate equality, and empower women economically.