Can improving child and adolescent care infrastructure boost the economy and promote equality in Argentina?

Last May, a bill was presented to the National Congress of Argentina for the creation of the Integral System of Care Policies of Argentina (SINCA). Developed by the Department for Women, Gender and Diversity (MMGyD) in conjunction with the Department of Labour, Employment and Social Security, the bill’s most notable measures include an increase in leave for “pregnant, non-pregnant and adoptive workers”. If passed, the law would increase maternity leave from 90 to 126 days, while paternity (or non-pregnancy) leave would initially increase from 2 to 15 days, and continue to gradually increase to 90 days.

“We support the reform of leave schemes and the construction of a comprehensive care system, although at the moment this does not seem to be a priority for the various political forces in Parliament,” says Yamile Socolovsky of the Central de Trabajadores de Argentina (CTA). Alejandra Angriman of the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina Autónoma (CTA-A) adds that the focus should be on financing and predicts that “the country’s heavy indebtedness and the payment of external debt could hamper the expansion of policies comprehensive care. Unfortunately, the budget approved by the National Congress does not take this worrying situation into account.

What is certain is that the country’s current dismal economic situation contributes to widening the gender gap. “We are currently experiencing major setbacks for women. Many are no longer looking for a job or see telework as their only job option,” says Noemí Ruiz, Secretary for Equality and Gender at the Confederación General del Trabajo de la República Argentina (CGTRA).

According to a report of the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) since the beginning of this year, participation in the labor market is 68.6% for men, against 50.2% for women. Against the backdrop of inflation and the economic crisis, the situation of women has only worsened since the start of the pandemic. According to INDEC data for the second half of 2021, 37.3% of the Argentine population lives below the poverty line. In addition, “women are overrepresented in poor sectors that have not found their jobs since the pandemic”, explains Natalia Quiroga Díaz, lecturer specializing in feminist economics at the National University of General Sarmiento (UNGS) in Buenos Areas. The feminization of poverty is largely due to the fact that in Argentina and throughout Latin America, women continue to be responsible for raising children and caring for dependents. According to a 2020 report75.7% of all domestic and care work is done by women.

Without adequate care infrastructurereconciling work and parenthood becomes a challenge.

While Argentina has a network of public preschools (for ages ranging from 45 days to 2 years old) and kindergartens (from 3 to 5 years old), “there is a significant shortage”, especially before the age of four, and as Angriman explains, these centers are unevenly distributed across the country and often only cover four hours a day. As she explains, “only 20% of the population” can afford private daycare.

“Enrolling your child in daycare is like winning the lottery,” says Lorena (pseudonym), a Colombian living in Buenos Aires and mother of a nine-month-old baby, who is currently trying to find a job and reenter the labor market after her maternity leave. “My partner and I don’t have enough money, but looking for a job is a job in itself, and with a baby, it’s really hard to sit in front of the computer to make a CV and look for offers. jobs,” she explains. . However, like many mothers in her situation, Lorena does not plan to leave her child in a crèche for eight or ten hours a day, Monday to Friday. “For the moment, I am only considering part-time work, or total or partial telework. But I would really need a space where my daughter could be taken care of, where I could also sit and work or take care of her, where my partner could do the same,” says- she.

Verónica (who also preferred not to give her real name), mother of two children aged nine and two, who is trying to reconcile motherhood and studying sociology at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), has similar thoughts. “It’s not just about dropping the kids somewhere for eight hours, it’s about being near them, being able to help them, both for the mother and for the father. I have always dreamed of having a crèche within the Faculty of Social Sciences. This would allow me to continue my classes and breastfeed,” says Veronica. “There have been several attempts to create one, but none have been successful.”

Teleworking and the invisibilization of care work

The pandemic has reinforced the idea that mothers can balance care and work if they work from home: “People thought women could just telecommute while providing care. I think it’s based on the idea that caregiving isn’t work, it doesn’t require attention. There is an invisibilization of domestic work and care that has everything to do with the gender gap, with the expropriation of women’s work,” says Verónica.

However, contrary to popular opinion, care work is demanding and demands attention. This is Lorena’s dilemma: “If I get a job that I can do from home, I will have to hire a nanny to be able to work, which is only possible because I get extra income from rent. The only income from our work would not be enough for us. But this is precisely what perpetuates the precariousness of caregivers, because to make ends meet with my salary, I have to pay a pittance to the person who takes care of the love of my life.

“Rather than universal systems of care, we have a chain of precariousness, with some women paying other women what they can to take care of their children,” explains Natalia Quiroga. “The problem with telecommuting as an option for women caring for their children is that it leads to the privatization of a public issue. It is urgent to stop thinking of care as a female problem.

The right to care and to be cared for

The CGTRA is working on the development of an alternative bill for the creation of “centres for the assistance and integral protection of early childhood, childhood and adolescence, for the children of workers, who ‘they are formal, underemployed or unemployed’, which include coverage for people looking for work. work and study, like Lorena and Veronica. As Noemí Ruiz explains, the bill is based on the concept of “care as a right, both the right to give care and the right to receive care”. The bill proposes multi-purpose centers aimed at the education, health and nutrition of children and adolescents:

“We are committed to the professionalization of care, which is why one of the central objectives is training for all tasks, teachers, doctors, caregivers, etc. “, she explains.

According to Ruiz, this law would not only strengthen the rights of caregivers but also generate thousands of quality jobs and contribute to economic recovery. “We can consider these healthcare infrastructures as spaces for economic recovery. A central element is to reclaim space from the public sphere, from social and popular economies, organized into networks to guarantee the complexity of care work, especially for children. This implies that the State assumes responsibility for care and is radically committed to a better future for new generations,” says Quiroga Díaz. CTA also calls for “recognition of care work as work that needs to be professionalised, remunerated and formalised”, says Socolovsky.

“Public policies must aim to change the responsibility for care that falls excessively on households, especially women and feminized bodies, by holding states, businesses and social organizations accountable,” says Angriman. Drawing on her own experience, Veronica summarizes: “It is not enough to talk about the co-responsibility of parents or extended families, society must take responsibility and collectivize care. But for society to be involved, it must be seen as something necessary and relevant.

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