Is a lack of high-quality ECEC holding back women’s rights?

The U.S. lags far behind other industrialized nations in establishing a functional child care system. That’s why President Obama’s recent proposal to provide universal access to preschool is encouraging. While it doesn’t completely address the needs of the 11 million children younger than 5 utilizing child care each week, it’s a step in the right direction for women and families.

Not only does preschool improve the educational trajectory of young children, but universal access to preschool would eliminate one barrier to women’s equality in the workforce — at least, beyond a child’s first three years of life. The work-life policies that [New York Times columnist] Coontz seeks must be accompanied by increased public investment in child care and early education, particularly for the most marginalized women.

Anika Rahman, Huffington Post (2/3/2013)

The childcare sector was set up primarily to provide opportunities for women to enter the workforce, due to entrenched cultural biases towards women taking on the child-rearing role. While it is certainly true that a well-funded and high quality ECEC sector could improve women’s rights in the workplace, it can be problematic to purely view ECEC as a workforce issue. This means that the focus is on workers, and not children.

If we wanted to view ECEC as purely about workforce participation, we could simply cut qualification requirements and regulations and have it as an extremely cheap babysitting service. This would enable more families to afford it and enable great workforce participation.

But would that be in the best interests of children? Surely a superior proposition is to have high-quality early learning for children at no cost to any family – thereby ensuring equity for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is the philosophy behind universal-access advocacy, and would be working in the best interests of children, while also giving families (particularly women) choices around their careers.

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