‘Back to work’ or ‘babysitting the economy’? - Advancing public health and productive work through investments in maternity protection and childcare

Presenter/s: ANU Crawford School of Public Policy; Tax and Transfer Policy Institute; ANU Gender Institute

Event type: Webinar

Event date: Monday, 27 July 2020 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm

Event venue: Zoom

Future work trends threaten to deepen existing inequalities for women. Counted in work hours, childcare is the largest sector of the economy, mostly unpaid. The COVID-19 pandemic is further intensifying and increasing women’s unpaid care and domestic workloads, while the economic impact will place women’s livelihoods and economic security at significant risk. Breastfeeding is archetypal of unpaid work and gender equality issues. Egregious breaches of women’s and children’s human rights are occurring from unnecessary separation of infants from their mothers. As countries in south east Asia restricted movements across national borders from March 2020, hundreds of women who had to travel across borders to earn a living were stopped from providing breastmilk to their babies at home. Meanwhile, companies have stepped up inappropriate promotion of commercial food products targeting mothers of infants and young children.

The ‘Magic Pudding of Care’ is not an inexhaustible resource, and women are not babysitters for the economy. Current OECD policies promote women’s employment as the pathway to gender equality and emphasise the need to reallocate care responsibilities from women to men. What about the well-being of children? Especially, what about breastfeeding, with its crucial importance for women’s and children’s health and well being in both rich and poor countries? How can public policy help men and women share the financial and the time costs of rearing children more equally, without throwing the babies out with the bathwater?

Must we choose between more support for family caregivers and support for paid care, when both are needed, and care responsibilities should be shared around? While some might say such specialisation is ‘their choice’, it is a highly constrained choice. Many mothers would prefer sharing both the financial and the time costs of rearing children more equally. We could modify paid work to make it easier for everyone to combine it with care activities.

Authoritative health guidance emphasises that breastfeeding should be protected, supported and encouraged – both in crisis and in normal times. Implementing the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding is more important than ever but is hindered by lack of priority for investment in breastfeeding policies and plans nationally.

Is now not the time to invest in infrastructure and services which better sustain the care economy, including to enable breastfeeding? This includes policies such as ensuring comprehensive and adequate paid maternity leave, accessible, affordable and quality care services, ensuring flexible work schedules, and reduced length of work week for men and women.

Our online webinar program aims to galvanise efforts to improve breastfeeding policies and funding in national budgets, by applying gender budgeting and World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi) tools to Australian policy. Our webinars on 20 April and 4 May took a global perspective on emergency and pandemic preparedness and response planning. On 29 June, we looked at maternity care services and breastfeeding.

The forthcoming webinar on Monday, 27 July will focus on breastfeeding, care and work, to develop themes from the Introductory Webinar on 6 April on ‘Gender Responsive Budgeting and Progressing Breastfeeding Policy in 2020 and Beyond’, and the 18 May webinar on ‘Protecting Women’s Reproductive Rights in Policy and Resourcing decisions – the Need for ‘Data and Dollars’. International and national experts in gender budgeting, human rights, food marketing, breastfeeding, work and childcare will provide informed commentary on addressing gender inequality by progressing implementation of the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy.

» Podcast (127 MB)

Brought to you by the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute and the ANU Gender Institute

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Updated:  7 November 2012/Responsible Officer:  Convenor, Gender Institute/Page Contact:  Web manager, Gender Institute