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From care burden to economic opportunity: The case for childcare in Africa

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Originally published on Global Cause/Media Planet.

One sliver of a silver lining that can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic is the new momentum created in policy circles around childcare. Media-shared tales of parents grappling with childcare amid school closures spotlighted household care imbalances and global childcare system flaws.

Childcare and workforce gender gap

Women were found to exit the workforce at higher rates than men during the pandemic, largely due to increased care responsibilities following school closures. To capitalise on this momentum, policymakers are increasingly looking for ideas on how best to invest in care to support women’s work, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where access to early childhood care remains very limited, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable.

In Africa, working mothers often rely on informal childcare arrangements in the absence of formal care services, and unpaid care work forces women out of the labour market. Even when women do work, there is evidence of care responsibilities dragging down productivity and profits. In Uganda, for example, women business owners caring for young children in their shops earned lower profits.

Childcare boosts women’s employment

Evidence from the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab (GIL) shows that when childcare is available, people use it, and there is high demand among women, even in rural areas. Investing in childcare can benefit both children and their caregivers and could also generate more paid jobs for women who are often the providers of care services.

Examples of well-designed, innovative childcare services include interventions in Burkina Faso, where mobile crèches located close to public worksites sparked gains in women’s salaried employment and improved child development. In Kenya, low-cost and more flexible formal childcare led to better quality work arrangements for urban women. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, affordable low-cost childcare centres in agricultural communities led to economic diversification and an increase in household income of about 30%.  

Effective childcare leads to economic gains

Limited fiscal space and budgetary constraints are often cited as barriers to the adoption of childcare policies. However, we have new evidence of cost-effective innovations that have helped women access quality, affordable childcare — increasing their labour supply and productivity, which, in turn, spurs economic growth. Investing in childcare to support working women is a smart economic policy.

Sophia Friedson-Ridenour

Social Development Specialist in the World Bank’s Africa Region Gender Innovation Lab (GIL)

Adiam Hagos Hailemicheal

Economist, The World Bank in Africa

Sreelakshmi Papineni

Economist working at the Gender Innovation Lab

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