Photo credit: VFP - Photo: 2021

Development Banks Must Prioritize Childcare to Improve Women’s Economic Standing During and After COVID-19

Viewpoint by Megan O’Donnell

Megan O’Donnell leads the Center for Global Development’s COVID-19 Gender and Development Initiative, which aims to promote gender equality and long-term prosperity in low- and middle-income countries by informing global and national decision-makers’ policy responses to the current pandemic and future crises.

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) — Lack of access to quality childcare has been a longstanding issue, especially in low- and middle-income countries, with consequences for children’s and caregivers’ well-being and countries’ overall development.

Now, COVID-era containment measures, resulting in school and childcare center closures worldwide, have increased unpaid childcare burdens tremendously, especially for women and girls, and many childcare facilities have been forced to permanently shut down due to lost revenue.

Multilateral development banks (MDBs) have an important role to play to ensure that women and girls don’t get left behind in COVID recovery efforts, and prioritizing investments in quality, affordable childcare will be key to this end. But to date, MDBs have not made childcare a central priority in their lending and policy dialogues with governments.

If we truly want to improve women’s economic status, as well as support children’s health, nutrition, and broader well-being, it’s time for development banks to start positioning care as essential infrastructure globally. Here’s how:

First, development banks must identify where the needs for affordable, quality childcare are the greatest and help close those gaps. The Center for Global Development’s recent analysis explored how much the MDBs have invested in childcare over time, where those investments went in the world, and what kinds of investments were made.

Using project data from eight multilateral development banks, we compiled all projects with a childcare component that took place from 2000 to June, 2021 and found a number of gaps that could be filled through future investments. For example, funding for childcare programs is currently particularly lacking in the Middle East and North Africa, and more investment is needed in low-income countries in general.

Second, development banks must pinpoint the types of childcare models and programs that yield the biggest benefits for both caregivers and children. CGD’s analysis found that while a large proportion of MDB childcare projects are aimed at improving education and learning for children around the globe, few of these types of projects pay any attention to their impact on caregivers—for example, whether women’s labor force participation increased because of the childcare support they received.

This isn’t just a problem at the multilateral banks but one that shows up in many early childhood education projects. Education and caregiving policies can’t be addressed in silos: more can and must be done to address unpaid childcare burdens through education programs in a way that benefits children and caregivers alike.

Finally, development banks and their shareholders must prioritize childcare in their policy dialogues with country governments, and position investments in care as essential infrastructure as the Biden-Harris administration has done in its U.S. domestic policy agenda. Encouragingly, the World Bank seems to be on the right track.

The International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s lending arm that focuses on the world’s poorest countries, is prioritizing childcare and says that as it collects funding to help countries recover from COVID-19, it will seek specifically to “support 15 IDA countries to expand access to quality, affordable childcare for low-income families.”

This focus on care is a much-needed and unprecedented step for IDA, and is a hopeful sign that other MDBs will follow suit by establishing childcare as a core priority.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in unpaid care work all over the world, causing women to leave the workforce and reversing decades of progress on gender equality.

Now is the time for multilateral development banks to make more and smarter investments to ensure families across the globe have access to childcare and that women have greater opportunity to shape their economic futures. [IDN-InDepthNews — 20 August 2021]

Photo: UNFPA-UNICEF Nepal/2018/KPanday

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