Provision of childcare spaces at work can promote women’s labor force participation

June 20, 2023

By Linda Oloo and Charity Waweru-Mwangi

Around the world, women spend disproportionately more time on unpaid work compared to men. They are responsible for unpaid care tasks such as taking care of young children, and performing household chores like cleaning, cooking and fetching water. This burden of unpaid care work impedes women’s participation in paid work. Women in low-resource settings are more disadvantaged based on the fact that opportunities for employment are limited.

The situation is further influenced by the fact that the kinship support system has broken down and there are no social resources such as extended family members, especially in urban areas to relieve women of these responsibilities. Some mothers are forced to make difficult decisions like leaving young children with neighbors and friends, taking them to childcare centers or carrying them along as they go to look for job opportunities.

Childcare facilities have bridged the gap for many mothers and have enabled them to look for job opportunities. However, some mothers are forced to take their children to work as they cannot pay for childcare center services. For others, the inaccessibility of the centers is an issue they have to contend with. Further, some mothers feel that the conditions in the childcare centers are unsafe or unsanitary which could negatively affect their children’s health and wellbeing. There are also worries about the food and the quality of care provided at the centers.

Findings from the GrOW ll study that APHRC is conducting in Nakuru West show that carrying children to work is largely influenced by the nature of work that the mothers are engaged in and the safety at the place of work. Exclusive breastfeeding is also a reason why some women opt to carry their children to work yet findings from this study shows that many work environments lack proper spaces to enable lactating mothers the opportunity to optimally breastfeed their children. Moreover, because of competing interests on whether to take care of the child or work responsibilities, the mothers tend to have reduced concentration at work.

The only policy these mothers know of is the maternity leave of three months that is provided for by the government. This is, however, not enough time for mothers especially in meeting the requirement to exclusively breastfeed children for six months. In other instances, mothers who go for maternity leave end up losing their jobs in the process because of the short-term nature of their work.

According to a policy brief by the International Labor Organization (ILO) title Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, women have suffered disproportionate job and income losses because of their over-representation in the hardest-hit sectors, such as accommodation and food services, and the manufacturing sector. Women’s employment has faced a significant decline with a global estimate of 4.2% which represents 52 million jobs.

The anticipated recession is expected to affect the industries listed above which means that the recovery in the sectors may take some time. It is therefore accurate to assume that the jobs lost during the pandemic may not be available until the economic situation improves. The responsibilities that women shoulder in the home-front further reduces their chance of recovery from job losses. This is more true for mothers of young children under the age of three years.

Most women are finding entrepreneurship as a means to meet their basic provisions during this tough economic season.  For this reason, provision of childcare spaces in market centers and at the workplace can allow mothers to concentrate on paid work while also looking after their children. This will not only optimize their productivity and increase their earnings but will also give them peace of mind knowing that their children are safe and within their vicinity.