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Gender equality and women workers

Childcare shortfalls having major impact on gender equality in labour markets across Asia and the Pacific

New report highlights impacts of shortfalls in childcare provision in the region, makes recommendations for change at all levels.

Press release | Bangkok, Thailand | 01 August 2023
A mother with her young child in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. © ILO
BANGKOK (ILO News) – The provision of childcare remains patchy across Asia and the Pacific, with limited access, affordability and quality impacting women’s participation in the workforce and proving detrimental to children’s development according to a major new report.

Investments in childcare for gender equality in Asia and the Pacific looks at the public provision of childcare across 48 countries of Asia and the Pacific. The report is the result of collaborative research undertaken jointly by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).

It analyses and highlights how the promotion of affordable, accessible, quality childcare services and facilities, supported by childcare workers enjoying decent work, are key elements to support a virtuous cycle of benefits for women workers, childcare workers, and children and will bring transformative change to advance gender equality, decent work and sustainable development.

The report finds that the general lack of the statutory right to childcare is a major reason for the absence of childcare systems across the region. Children aged 0–2 are the most under-served, with mothers generally obligated to exit the workforce to care for this age group due to a lack of other options. Low-income, rural households are the worst affected, while children with disabilities have particularly compromised access to childcare services adapted to their needs.

Even where subsidies for childcare exist, high out-of-pocket costs for parents remain, which are being driven up further by the rising cost of living. The high costs involved pose a significant challenge to parents seeking childcare and often deter mothers in particular from returning to the labour market.

The perceived quality of childcare is recognized as a key factor in determining parents’ willingness to enrol children in childcare centres. Across Asia and the Pacific, gaps remain in terms of upholding minimum infrastructure and care delivery standards.

Furthermore, the childcare sector remains highly feminized and undervalued. Wages vary widely: they are well below average and are often below the poverty level. Childcare workers have low levels of job security, employment benefits, and social protection. The sector is also marked by low overall levels of collectivization, bargaining power and voice.

The report calls for greater investments in quality, accessible, affordable childcare that provides decent work to care workers. It provides policymakers, development partners, researchers, civil society organizations and other care stakeholders with an analysis of the policy and institutional frameworks for childcare aged 0–6 years old and recommendations on how to move ahead. It also includes more in-depth country case studies from Georgia, Indonesia, Lao People Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka that reflect the voices of parents, childcare providers and childcare workers.

For further information please contact:

Steve Needham
Senior Communications Officer, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Shobhna Decloitre
Senior Communications Specialist, Asian Development Bank

Mahtab Haider
RBAP Communications Specialist, United Nations Development Programme

Karima Cherif
Head, Communications and Outreach, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)