How child care supports greater gender equality

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  Published on Wednesday, 03 March 2021

How child care supports greater gender equality

Library Home  >  Work & Child CareDiversity and Inclusion
  Published on Wednesday, 03 March 2021
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Early childhood education and care (ECEC) opens up a world of opportunity for families.

Young children are supported to learn, parents are freed up to work, and although all things aren’t yet equal in education and employment, ECEC does move girls, boys, women and men in a positive direction.

Here, we see what gender equality means for all people, and explain how ECEC services support efforts to create a gender equal world.

What is gender equality?

Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) says that gender equality is the equal treatment of all genders and, ‘It means all genders will enjoy the same rights, opportunities, responsibilities and protections.’

Instead of being something we’d ‘quite like,’ gender equality is a fundamental human right, and it has benefits, not just for women, but for society as a whole.

The United Nations says gender equality is, ‘Essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development,’ and it’s been shown that the empowerment of women, ‘Spurs productivity and economic growth.’

That said, gender equality won’t just happen. Individuals, communities, organisations and governments all need to take action for equality, and WGEA says in a gender equal world we would see:

  • Equal access to education for girls and boys
  • Equal representation of women in leadership positions
  • No discrimination against women and girls
  • Recognition of the value of unpaid and domestic work
  • Equal access to economic resources, like financial services, inheritances and natural resources, and
  • No gendered violence.

Unfortunately, the world is not there yet. In Australia, there are still gaps between men and women’s earnings, opportunities and treatment, but ECEC does play a part in equalising people’s experiences.

What are some key ways that child care supports gender equality?

When we look at the key markers of gender equality, ECEC supports girls and boys, mums and dads, and other people in three important ways:

  1. It provides equal access to early childhood education for all genders

    Although vulnerable and disadvantaged children may still face challenges accessing ECEC, in Australia, we’re fortunate that girls and boys can both attend child care and, instead of splitting children down gender lines, there’s a focus on each and every child’s learning and development.

    Educational programs and practices at ECEC services are child-centred and stimulating. Quality services support all genders (and ages, personalities and capabilities) to follow individual children’s interests and support them to learn through play, socialise, and develop in a healthy, engaged way.
  1. ECEC supports greater representation of women in leaderships roles

    The ECEC sector includes many women in leadership positions (such as centre directors and board members), and the use of child care enables mums to advance their own careers.

    Instead of being in a ‘holding pattern’ until their under fives go to school, women can take control of their career success – and take pay rises and promotions, too. 

Child care also provides an opportunity for mums to increase their leadership prospects through tertiary education; and if leadership isn’t their goal, ECEC enables women to work in other ways while their children are young.

Mums can start new jobs or return to old ones, work for themselves or for others, and there are different child care options to suit individual families’ work and life needs.

  1. Our laws guard against discrimination against women, with child care in mind

WGEA says, ‘There are specific gender equality laws in Australia to ensure everyone is treated fairly,’ and a principal objective of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 is to, ‘Promote, amongst employers, the elimination of discrimination on the basis of gender in relation to employment matters (including in relation to family and caring responsibilities).

This means employers should not discriminate against women because of the time they give to family and caring responsibilities.

Organisations can promote gender equality by proactively offering employees flexible work arrangements (e.g. late starts to do child care drop-offs or split shifts to do pick-ups), and some employers offer on-site or subsidised child care to allow women to more easily balance work and child-raising.

The Equality Act describes flexible and supportive work arrangements as ‘Gender equality indicators,’ and there’s more information about flexible working arrangements for parents on the Fair Work Ombudsman site.

Where is there room for improvement?

Quality ECEC provides a fantastic early education for girls and boys, and it allows mums and dads to work and study, but there are concerns that the current child care system disincentivises women from going back to full-time work, because ‘Working more than three days a week provides little or no financial benefit;’ and there is ongoing inequity around parents’ work and income.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found that:

  • There’s a gap in workforce participation for people with young children. Specifically, only 65.5 per cent of women with under sixes work, compared with 94.4 per cent of men.
  • Rates of part-time employment are much higher for mums than dads. Amongst parents of under sixes, three in five employed mothers worked part-time, compared to less than one in 10 employed dads.
  • As of May 2020, Australia’s national gender pay gap was 14 per cent, which means the average weekly earnings of full-time female workers was 86 per cent that of men. 

These statistics have ramifications for mums’ earning potential, career progression and superannuation balance when they retire; and there is also inequity around unpaid child care, with women performing one hour and 48 minutes of unpaid care work for every one hour that men do.

For these reasons, it’s important that everyone works together to forge a gender equal world, and International Women’s Day is a key way to contribute to change.

International Women’s Day is next Monday, 8 March, and it's an opportunity for all of us to:

  • Celebrate women’s achievements
  • Raise awareness against bias
  • Take action for equality, and
  • #ChooseToChallenge

There’s more information here, we can all agree that help is needed to achieve gender equality in early childhood and later life, the world over.

Additional reference

Australian Human Rights Commission

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 04 March 2021

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