Childcare is Key to Women’s Equality

Childcare is key to women’s equality. NAWL and FAFIA call on Prime Minister Harper to maintain and renew childcare funding agreements with the provinces.

Honorable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons

March 8 2006

Prime Minister Harper,

The National Association of Women is writing to on International Women’s Day to urge you to maintain and renew the funding agreements with the provinces for childcare programs.

The availability of good child care is a threshold requirement for women to have equal access to the work force, to professional training, and to participation in public life. It is a key to ensuring women’s equality and financial autonomy. When it is not available, women’s choices, women’s opportunities to be equal members of their society, are seriously constrained.

Also, access to safe, affordable child care is a crucial issue for many women, because their families need two incomes from paid employment to stay afloat. Immigrant women with young children need child care in order to be able to take language training, work and fully integrate into their new communities. Single mothers need child care to escape poverty. And women who are not in paid employment need quality child care when they need rest and back up, as well as to provide their children with access to different and rich learning environments outside the home.

Whether they are working in the home or combining paid work and caring for young children, women deserve support and recognition for the importance of their contribution to society. The lack of coherent child care policy in Canada reflects the low value society places on the work of caring for children, which has traditionally been the unpaid work of women.

Good child care also helps reduce the economic penalties paid by women when they become mothers. Almost a third of women in part-time jobs cited caring for children as the reason they were in part-time work. Time spent outside of full-time employment taking care of young children results in a reduction of lifetime earnings for women with children, lost opportunities for professional advancement; lack of access to the full benefit of public programs like employment insurance and pension benefits. We shouldn’t expect women to assume responsibility for caring for young children at the price of their own financial independence. Cancelling the childcare funding agreements will represent a huge step backwards for women.

Thirty-five years ago, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended that the federal government establish a cost-shared child care program with the provinces and territories to ensure that everywhere in the country there would be quality, affordable child care. Since then Canada has made commitments in the Charter, and by ratifying international human rights treaties, to achieve equality for women. These constitutional and treaty commitments oblige the federal government to take measures that will counteract the economic and social disadvantages that women face in the family and in the labour force because they are the child-bearing sex and the primary caregivers for children. NAWL believes that these commitments oblige the government, among other things, to move forward with a coherent strategy to create an affordable, accessible child care system.

Three years ago, in January 2003, the United Nations examined Canada’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The United Nations CEDAW Committee commended Québec for its childcare programs, but expressed concern on Canada’s track record on childcare. The Committee recommended that Canada “expand affordable childcare facilities under all governments, and … report with nationwide figures, on demand, availability and affordability of childcare in its next report”.

During the federal election, all party leaders, including yourself Mr. Harpe,r formally pledged to “take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada”, particularly those commitments under CEDAW.

On March 8, 2006, thirty-five years after the Royal Commission’s recommendation, twenty-five years after Canada’s ratification of CEDAW, and twenty years after the introduction of the Charter’s equality guarantee, we ask you to respect your commitments to women, and to maintain these important funding agreements on childcare.

Yours truly,

Andrée Côté
Director of Legislation and Law Reform