ILO called for the urgent investment in ECCE as this would support a more gender-equal world of work, generate several job opportunities, increase women’s job opportunities and contribute to professionalizing this sector.
This call is emphasized in the outcomes of “Investing in Early Childhood Care and Education in the Arab Region for a more gender equal world of work” Conference held in Amman, May 15-16, under the patronage of the Minister of Social Development and the Chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Women’s Empowerment, Wafa Bani Mustafa, in partnership with the relevant international organizations and representatives of a number of Arab countries.
The Conference called for the exchange of experiences, challenges and best practices related to the promotion of comprehensive, fair and quality ECCE services, and identifying common recommendations and implementable measures to provide equal approaches for quality ECCE, through transformative care policies and decent work conditions.
The Conference discussed findings of the ILO report 2022 “Care at Work: Investing in Care Leave Policies and Care Services for a More Gender-Equal World of Work.
According to the report, the ILO estimates that investing in the childcare and long-term care services in 12 MENA countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates) will generate almost 6 million jobs by 2035, of which 5.1 million correspond to direct jobs in childcare, almost 5.3 million to direct jobs in long-term care, and 2.6 million to indirect jobs in non-care sectors.
The report indicates that closing the large care policy gaps in these 12 MENA countries would require a progressive and sustainable annual investment by 2035 of more than US$204 billion (which is equivalent to an average 5.8 per cent of GDP before taxes per country) by 2035, which translates into a potential average annual incremental investment of 0.45 percent of GDP to reach the annual investment requirement by 2035.
Deputy Director of the ILO Regional Office for Arab States, Peter Rademaker, said that “investing in ECCE sector is” essential and very important," indicating the ILO’s readiness to talk with finance ministers in the region to encourage them to invest in this sector.
"We wish that many countries in the region will to participate in the coming years to make them aware of the importance of investing in ECCE sector”.
At the Conference, ILO Maternity Protection and Work-Family Specialist, Laura Addati, reviewed findings of ILO report “Care at Work: Investing in Care Leave Policies and Care Services for a More Gender-Equal World of Work”.
Addati said that investing in inclusive and integrated care policy packages would contribute to reducing the gender gap in employment rates by an average of 7 percentage points, which would increase women’s employment rate from 23.1 per cent in 2019 to 33.4 percent by 2035.
“The average return on investment in MENA will be positive. Every dollar spent on a care package that extends adequately paid childcare-related leave as well as early childhood care and education services would result in around 3 dollars of GDP increase” Addati added.
The UN Women Project Officer, Hazar Asfoura, noted that the care economy sector could create 300 million jobs around the world, and indicated the importance of this in creating women’s job opportunities in the region.
“This economy is essential for women, as it lessens the burden of care, especially in Jordan, where women’s burden is 12 times greater than men’s. The care economy currently covers only 10% of the demand, so the opportunity still exists to pay attention to this investment. Next year, we will launch the care sector investment strategy, as this sector could create numerous job opportunities compared to other sectors. More than 200,000 jobs can be created in this sector”, Asfoura added.
The World Bank's the Invest in Childcare Initiative officer, Zina Dawani, said that investing in the childcare sector contributes to building human capital in a country, promoting women's economic empowerment and improving overall economic growth, so the World Bank has launched the Invest in Childcare Initiative to increase and improve investment in this sector.
Dawani noted that the WB has allocated 102 million USD to fund investment in childhood care around the world, and plans to increase such amount to more than 200 million USD.
“The initiative consists of 4 components, competitive funding through catalytic grants, global analytical work, integrating childcare in capacity-building programs, and increasing support for countries' investments in childcare up to 10 million USD. It is expected that 2 million mothers and 4 million children around the world will be reached.” Dawani added.
The UNICEF Educational Specialist, Basem Naser, said that investment in early childhood may reduce the need for UNICEF intervention at later stages, and called for focus on early childhood education.
“Despite the progress made over the past ten years, the sector faces several challenges, including low enrollment in pre-primary education in the region, which is lower in conflict areas." Naser added.
Naser noted the need to support the ECCE sector, and called upon governments to adopt policies and plans to take part in this sector.
“We call on governments to make every political effort to fund ECCE projects, and encourage young people to work and volunteer in this sector”. Naser added.
“According to the ILO, employment-to-population ratios are closely related to women who have young children enrolled in early education. The social and economic benefits of ECCE are well documented and widely recognized. Child care services promote child development, create job opportunities, reduce unpaid home-based-care work, and enhance women's participation in the labor market and contribute to gender equality” said ILO Gender Specialist, Reem Aslan.
At the conference, the Minister of Social Development and the Chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Women’s Empowerment, Wafa Bani Mustafa, noted that in 2022, Jordan passed important legislation on women and childhood, including the amendment of paragraph 5 of article 6 of the Constitution, where women are protected from violence, the rights of the child are promoted, and exploitation and abuse women and children are prohibited.
“Stimulus and mitigating measures have been adopted, including exempting home-based enterprises from fees for three years, which encourages women to establish home-based nurseries."
The Director of the Social Security Corporation in Jordan, Muhammad Saleh Tarawneh, said that in 2022, SSC spent one billion and 600 million JOD (more than two billion USD) on social protection programs, which cover early pensions, aging, permanent total disability, and maternity and unemployment programs.
"We have established the Care Program. This Program is based on part of the social security contributions of male/female workers, where the Program grants lump sums to support families, so that they can send their children to home-based- nurseries, encouraging the demand in the ECCE sector." Tarawneh added.
An official from the German Development Agency (GIZ), Clara Stemmer, said that 92% of Jordanian children compared to 52% of non-Jordanians have access to early childhood services, and noted that such percentages constitute a big gap in children's access to early education services.
“GIZ has launched an initiative within 60 Jordanian schools to enable children to have access to early education services.” Stemmer said.
Early Childhood Education Personnel
ILO Head of Public and Private Services Unit, Oliver Liang, said that the low wage paid to ECCE workers is a result of underestimating of importance of this group, and he noted that this reinforces gender inequalities, as women constitute 95% of the total labor force in this sector.
“The importance of safety and security in the early childhood education sector should be highlighted, and training should be provided to early childhood education personnel to improve the quality of education.” Liang added.
An official from UNESCO, Manal Hadifa, called for focusing on schools in order to emphasize concern for the future of children, and called on the international community organizations to adopt ECCE pillars and pay attention early childhood education personnel.
“We must endeavor to make the teacher’s voice heard so that they enjoy their rights, they are paid sufficient wages, they are provided with required training, and their comforts are secured. Teachers' unions must take part in education meetings around the world in order to engage them further in decision-making process. Also, attention should be paid to young people working this sector”.
ILO calculations for 11 countries across the world also point to the undervaluation of ECCE jobs. Average hourly wages of ECED teachers represent only a fraction (for instance, 45.6 per cent in Lebanon) of the average wages paid to primary school teachers.
The representative of Arab Trade Union Confederation, Aisha Hmouda, pointed that the trade union movement in the region is discussing policies and their impact on the labor sectors, including leaving labor market by women due to lack of care, and this is, therefore, a challenge "that need to be addressed through, for example, establishment of nurseries in the workplace."
Hmouda noted that workplace nursery sector is underdeveloped and it needs to be legalized and prioritized, and she called for the need to find proactive measures that provide conditions of care, which contributes to attracting women to the labor market and encouraging them not to leave it.
“Attention must be paid to balancing family responsibilities, strengthening the families providing care services, and improving the role of nurseries, which promotes social justice and equality." Hmouda added
The Associate Professor, United Arab Emirates University, Emma Pearson, called for the need to provide sufficient resources for realization of job satisfaction among ECCE personnel, so as to ensure that they are attracted to work in this sector.
“"Experts have emphasized the importance of adapting curricula and education to meet the needs of ECCE sector. 46-week-training shall be provided to ECCE personnel, so that teachers are provided with a curriculum that may suit their ability to apply it in this sector."
Paying attention to the role of ECCE
In Jordan, SADAQA played a role in supporting the nursery sector in partnership with government sectors and concerned organizations. A member of SADAQA, Sahar Aloul, pointed that SADAQA has drafted a national framework for the Jordanian government, and designed a roadmap that “combines efforts and distributes roles for providing care for female workers.”
“The nursery sector was affected by the Covid-19 crisis, as most of the women working in this sector are not covered by social security. Now, 70% of the female workers in the nursery sector are covered by social security." Aloul said
A member of the National Committee for Kindergarten Female Owners in Jordan, Dima Qaisi, pointed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the kindergarten sector, and said that it was greatly affected, as many nurseries were closed due to bankruptcy, and people, including children, were psychologically affected.
"There are about 2,000 independent nurseries in Jordan, and the nursery committee consists of 250 members. In cooperation with ILO, We have followed up on kindergarten issues to improve nursery services and build capacity of nursery personnel. In cooperation with the Association of Banks, we improved the conditions of nurseries through direct financial support." Qaisi said.
A member of Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC), Saudi Arabia, Mashael Bin Saedan, said that KSA have launched several initiatives on social care for working women, including “Qura”, which pays 80% of nursery fees to working women.
“A large number of nurseries have been established next to schools in Saudi Arabia. The building system of such nurseries is advanced and comfortable. The nurseries provide advanced high quality services. Women's contribution to the Saudi economy increased from 27% to 33%, and this accelerates development and growth." Bin Saedan said
According to a UNESCO member, Dalila Brahmi, UNESCO has decided to conduct a study to develop an early childhood education roadmap. It, therefore, prepared a questionnaire to collect more information about the impact of ILO Guidelines on countries for paying attention to ECCE sector.
“We found that 50% of countries have not information about the ILO Guidelines on ECCE. In the Arab region, there are great challenges on ECCE, especially funding. Therefore, we call for investing 1% of countries' budgets in this sector."
Head of Central Social Care Unit, Ministry of Social Solidarity in Egypt, Dr. Mona Al Shabrawy, said that the Early Childhood Program was developed by the Egyptian government to manage nursery sector using curricula based on quality and qualification of personnel. The Program has developed 1000 nurseries, and this number will increase to 5000 next year. The nurseries receive children aged 0-4.
“ The Program aims at developing and controlling nurseries, providing training and expanding partnerships in this sector. We are currently using the Discovery Program to improve Egyptian Early Childhood Program, so that children and maternity centers are developed, and the employees working in such center are trained”. Dr. Al Shabrawy said
A member of the Arab Network for Early Childhood Development (NACED), Lara Odeh, noted that NACED is preparing a survey on the mental health of nursemaids in 6 Arab countries, and said that the objective of such survey is to collect information with the aim of developing work in ECCE area.
"We established the concept of paying attention to early childhood development sciences, through the development of training and vocational preparation. We have worked on an early childhood course that includes information about child development based on a scientific perspective. Further, we developed a mental health program (Nawara). It is an on-line program that helps support the mental health of nursemaids. We have started to implement this program in Lebanon.” Odeh said.
The conference participants made proposals, including ensuring the development of advanced and changing educational plans for children within nurseries and kindergartens up to the age of 6 years, ensuring access for children with disabilities to ECCE centers that employ specialized staff, training teaching staff, providing advanced and innovative teaching aids in these centers, and improving the wages of ECCE personnel.
The participants also called for the development and amendment of legislation on decent work conditions, so that decent work standards are applied to ensure the provision of ECCE facilities for the children of male/female workers, and to enable male/female workers to be represented in trade union organizations.
The participants made proposals for an operational roadmap. Such roadmap aims to establish a regional network for ECCE personal and ECCE center owners. In this context, a preparatory committee will be formed, in partnership with civil society institutions, government agencies, entrepreneurs and other concerned sectors, to create a database for the network and to identify this project.
Furthermore, the conference called upon the governments to support kindergartens, introduce academic courses in universities to prepare and qualify kindergarten personnel, and support this activity through relevant United Nations organizations such as UNESCO, ILO and UNICEF.
Moderated by the representative of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, Mr. Malik Al-Maaytah, the final session of discussions “Discussing and Developing a Roadmap for Action” concluded with an important step towards strengthening ECCE services, improving working conditions and professionalizing this sector.
The final session focused on the need to improve ECCE services and called for improving working conditions for dedicated professionals. The session culminated development of the roadmap based on ideas and experiences of the conference participants. The proposed roadmap included a set of strategies aimed at improving ECCE services, raising the quality of education, and creating an enabling environment for male and female teachers.
Conclusions of the final session also highlighted the importance of strengthening policies and investing in ECCE personnel who promote representation, social dialogue, gender equality and care inclusion. By focusing on these areas, countries and regions can build a strong foundation for developing comprehensive, sustainable and high-quality ECCE systems.