Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

There's a looming 'she-cession.' We need a plan, so let's start with urgent needs in child care

It is essential that we discuss economic recovery from COVID-19 through a feminist lens, writes Wendolyn Schlamp

N.L. needs a feminist economic recovery plan, argues Wendolyn Schlamp

With COVID-19, parents across the country are fearful of sending their kids back to school. This situation is indicative of a bigger challenge, writes CBC contributor Wendolyn Schlamp. (Mike Moore/CBC)

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For me, September is a time for excitement. The anticipation of back-to-school and crisp fall air signals not only a change in season but also new adventures around the corner.

This year is different.

Back-to-school is no longer a source of familiarity and comfort. As a mother, this September was rife with uncertainty and trepidation. 

I am not alone in this. With COVID-19, parents across the country are fearful of sending their kids back to school. This situation is indicative of a bigger challenge. It speaks to how we care for the most vulnerable among us, especially children.

The global pandemic has brought new challenges into our lives but before COVID-19, there was another festering crisis — accessible child care in Newfoundland and Labrador. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, our province has one of the lowest child-care coverage rates in the country, with an average rate of 28 per cent, meaning that there are fewer than three spaces available for every 10 children in their preschool years. In rural communities, the child-care coverage rate drops to just 18 per cent.

It is promising to see newly elected Premier Andrew Furey commit publicly to pushing for a $25-a-day child-care program for the province. As Wednesday's speech from the throne highlighted, with the federal government committing to creating a Canada-wide early learning and child-care system, addressing barriers to women's labour market participation must be an urgent priority for economic recovery. 

At YWCA St. John's, we offer innovative approaches to addressing child-care needs. Constanza Safatle, our newcomer services co-ordinator, is piloting a program that offers newcomers the opportunity to create their own business opportunities in child-care work.

Through this entrepreneurial program designed to create home-based child-care supports, participants are supported in obtaining micro-loans, and are able to seek support and professional mentorship, reducing some of the barriers that exist for marginalized communities. With more support from the government, this program could help alleviate some of the care burden that is affecting all of our communities.

Child care is critical to re-starting the economy. But, with Newfoundland and Labrador's deficit rising to $2.1 billion, some may question whether we have the money to pay for it.

Women and gender-diverse communities are overburdened and undervalued in Newfoundland and Labrador's economic climate, writes Schlamp. (Mike Moore/CBC)

Despite the up-front cost, child care pays economic and social dividends in the long term. In an analysis of Quebec's child-care system, researcher Pierre Fortin found that for every $100 that was invested in child care, the provincial government received $104 and the federal government received $43 in return.

Part of that is explained by increased labour market participation by parents, and women in particular.

More than that, investments in child care have been shown to be beneficial to children's social and cognitive development as well as their long-term educational attainment and employment earnings and participation.

This crisis has revealed that child care serves as essential social infrastructure, and if we don't act quickly, we risk losing the child-care access currently in place. Child-care researchers are reporting that over a third of closed child-care centres don't know if they will reopen.

In YWCA Canada's recent report with the Institute for Gender and the Economy, A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada, they cite the need for at least $2.5 billion nationally to stabilize the child-care sector. That's just to retain the number of pre-existing child-care spots.

They go on to recommend that at least one per cent of our country's GDP should be earmarked for early learning and child care. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador should consider a similar benchmark for our province's child-care investments.

It is essential that we discuss economic recovery from COVID-19 through an intersectional, gender-based lens. Women and gender-diverse communities are overburdened and undervalued in Newfoundland and Labrador's current economic climate. They have been disproportionately impacted by job losses and are currently facing a "she-cession."

Statistically, these communities carry the weight of underpaid care work, on top of an inequitable distribution and division of labour.

Historically, care work has been associated as a "feminized" task, forcing women and gender-diverse communities to shoulder this responsibility, and often without access to support and subsidies to alleviate the burden. This work will not stop without funding. It will continue. The question is, then, how long will the government rely on the unpaid and undervalued work of marginalized communities?

Community organizations and advocacy groups are speaking up. It is absolutely imperative that the government of Newfoundland and Labrador makes long-term investments in care services like affordable child care. It is long overdue.

The only way forward is putting the needs of women, two-spirit and gender-diverse people at the core. The time is now to build back better from COVID-19 through a feminist approach to economic recovery.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendolyn Schlamp

Contributor

Wendolyn Schlamp is the executive director of YWCA St. John's.

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