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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development

Childcare Service Expansion in Chile and Mexico: For Women or Children or Both?



Over the last few years, several middle-income countries, including Chile, Mexico and Uruguay, have increased the availability of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. This service expansion is qualitatively different from conditional cash transfer programmes which have mushroomed in the region. Feminist scholars have tended to view these programmes critically, fearing that stipends combined with care conditionalities reinforce traditional gender roles and add to the total workload of poor women, while doing little to improve women’s long-term economic security. Childcare services, in contrast, are explicitly aimed at (or implicitly facilitate) the commodification of female labour and the defamilialization of care. The fact that recent developments in this area have received little scholarly attention so far leaves the (surely unintended) impression that Latin American social policy is unalterably stuck on a familialist track. In reality, however, national and regional trends are likely to be quite varied.

This paper looks at recent efforts to expand ECEC services for children up to three years in Chile and Mexico. Although concerns over low female labour force participation and child welfare have emerged on the political agendas of both countries, their approaches to service expansion differ significantly. Generally speaking, Mexico’s Federal Daycare Programme for Working Mothers subsidizes community- and home-based daycare to facilitate the employment of low-income mothers without pursuing explicit educational aims. Poor women (rather than children) are the programme’s target group.

While female employment has definitely been encouraged by the Chilean government and the expansion of childcare has been perceived as crucial for its achievement, it occupies a secondary place in the country’s programme objectives. The crèche component of "Chile Crece Contigo" (Chile Grows With You) has instead been couched as a strategy to invest in the capabilities and equalize the opportunities of children from low-income families. The title echoes well-known narratives about the "social investment state". Children (rather than women) are the main beneficiaries of the programme and have, in fact, been granted the right to a crèche and a place in the kindergarten.

Through a comparison of both programmes, this paper shows that differences in policy design have important implications in terms of the opportunities the programmes are able to create for women and children from low-income families and the prospects for mitigating—or entrenching—existing gender and class inequalities. Since both programmes are fairly recent, a proper evaluation cannot be carried out in this paper. Rather, it is concerned with policy design, the assumptions underlying the programmes in terms of the organization of care, and their potential and limitations for reducing gender and social inequalities.

Finally, the authors venture some hypotheses as to why both countries may have chosen such different responses to address similar problems. They suggest that a combination of institutional legacies, overall frameworks for social policy and politics have made particular modes of ECEC service provision more attractive to governments and have shaped the ways in which similar objectives are translated into different policies.
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  • Pub. Date: 16 Jun 2010
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1994-8026
    From: UNRISD