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Overview

Working women are facing multiple challenges in striking a balance between their jobs and raising children.

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The most critical concerns that add up to form majority opinion on child care issues are effective handling of health care costs, rising cost of living, poor retirement benefits, cost of higher education, overseas jobs and job benefits. Salaries are failing to match current cost of living which makes health insurance unaffordable. Rapid urbanization has imposed greater demand for working population. It’s becoming more and more imperative for the lady of a family to contribute in the household income. Medical costs are another subject that cannot be overlooked. Women generally are likely to require more medical aid because of maternity issues. And if one member of a family gets down with serious illness, it could drag the household to bankruptcy. Retirement benefits are far from adequate as frequent job changes render today’s employees with meager compensation on retirement.

Most of the jobs handled by women are low paid entry level or executive level jobs, while CEOs and other white collared officials earn large pay packages. The discrimination of unequal pay still exists for working women. This causes the working women to explore more than one avenue for earning or to upgrade their education level along with the existing jobs. The room for spending quality time with their kids has got too congested to go unnoticed. Tying all these facts clearly highlights the need for providing low cost, high quality child care facilities for working women representing both low and middle income groups.

Recent research on contribution of working women in raising children indicates significantly higher levels of commitment and labor that they put in. Unfortunately, the society, the government and the industry have failed to take any pro-active steps to lighten the burden of working women.

Source: Womenomics 2006 Report, Cabinet Office, Japan.

Source: AFL-CIO 2006, Ask a working woman – A survey report. This survey was conducted on 26,000 working women from both urban and rural backgrounds.

“Imagine getting the kids ready for school while YOU take your shower and dress. One child is coughing. YOU go to work for 8 hours then pick up the kids. He’s still coughing. YOU go to the drug store for cough medicine. YOU bought the food yesterday YOU cook for dinner tonight. YOU wash at least one load of laundry every night. YOU read a bedtime story to the kids. Your second child is coughing. YOU don’t stop for 16+ hours. Now, tell me, do YOU need help with child care, medical expense and some vacation time?”

Dani, Santa Monica, California.

As quoted in the AFL-CIO 2006, ASK A WORKING WOMAN – Survey Report

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a voluntary federation of 53 national and international labor unions. Many organizations have taken up this critical issue according to the fundamentals that they represent. National Council of Women’s Organization (NCWO) constitutes a 15 member organizations’ Child Care Task Force. The three main activities of this task force is to align the child care efforts and resources among the member organizations, improve the reach of child care programs and facilities at the grass root level and promoting the cause for child care legislation in the Congress.

Importance

Education in early childhood and the quality of care can have a significant impression on a child’s social and cognitive development. Quality of child care facilities can be improved by improved training and skill enhancement programs. Child care facilities also need experience of providers for which the retention of child-care worker holds the key. The attrition rate among child care workers is more than thirty percent annually. Only by providing a stable and sufficient income to these workers, we can ensure building a competent workforce for this sector. Day-care centers which provide quality programs help to groom children with better language and math skills. Children have shown improved social and thinking skills from the preschool years into elementary school if subjected to high quality time away from their parents. Still the number of programs is short of the actual requirements. A part of the blame should be given to the government for having apathetic attitude towards this issue.

Comparison

There are nations with smaller economy and mediocre resources that are excelling in providing better child care facilities for working women than USA. One of the marked differences is the foresight of the policy makers who are in charge of allocating finances for health and family maintenance. Finland can set an example for USA where role of the government is not limited to just ensuring a maternity leave. In Finnish Society many responsibilities of the family have become the duty of the state. Day care for all children under school age has been officially guaranteed by the authorities. Either parent is entitled to the paid maternity or paternity leave without the risk of losing his or her job. (Anna-Stina Nykänen, 2003)

Finnish government’s commitment to provide equal opportunities to women for working and upgrading their education also translates into an increase in their earning.

(Source: European network of adult education organizations working on women’s employment issues)

The following excerpt from the Ministry of Labour Report will make the grass root level child care availability quite clear.

“In Finland, women commonly work outside the home, so day dare services are provided by municipalities. Alternative ways of organising child day care are supported by various benefits. Information about day care facilities and the conditions of the benefits is available from the municipal Social Services Centres, KELA (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland) and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.” (Working in Finland, 2005)

The pregnant women are monitored by maternity unit of local municipal unit till the child reaches the age of six. After that the child care unit takes over and ensures that the working women get to enjoy equal opportunity of earning and utilizing their time at par with their male colleagues. In addition to this, females in Finland have free access to special advisory that attends to the general health of mothers and their babies. This advisory provides guidance in motherhood skills and also ensures that expectant parents are enrolled for preparatory classes on child care. The State also provides a maternity package to every expectant mother that contains the necessities for care of the newborn child as well as various baby clothes.

Providing improved and level work environment has added to the productivity of the Finnish society, as elucidated by these figures:  Regular annual working hours in industry:

• Germany 1573 hours

• Denmark 1665 hours

• Belgium 1702 hours

• Austria 1713 hours

• The Netherlands 1715 hours

• Finland 1716 hours

(Source: AKAVA, 2005)

Hence creating a supportive environment for working women does not require anything which is unfeasible to implement successfully in any developed country.

Ideal Candidate for Promoting Legislation

There has been an increasing gender gap in the elections. Gender Gap is defined as the difference between the number of female voters and the number of male voters for a given candidate. Women vote in higher numbers than men, and have done so in every election since 1964. In 2000, 7.8 million more women voted than men did. (CAWP Advisory, 2004) Such numbers have tilted the balance in favor of candidates that can influence and impress women in large numbers. Focusing on women candidates who are likely to get popular public opinion legislated successfully, a few requisites shall be must.

The candidate must have an experience of being a part of introduction of bills in the congress related to policies. Experience in legislative processes is the best guarantee to the voters that their aspirations will at least have a mode to translate into laws.
To push through an agenda in the congress, would require popularity that cuts across party lines. A stanch democrat or a hardcore republican can both end up losing the public support as they will not be able to win sufficient number of supporters in the congress. So a liberal outlook that is true to women’s issues is more important than party loyalty. And of course, the candidate cannot be exclusively a feminist, male members of both the houses should also be mobilized.

A woman candidate good at organizing fund-raisers or mobilizing associations would provide a useful leverage for the cause that she represents. Candidates with large number of followers must also have sound financial plans to invest in public relations, advertising and coordinating meetings at different levels. The candidate should be able to impress upon the issues of both low income and middle income groups of the society. As the largest voting numbers come from these two sections.

If one is to believe Steven D Levitt, Author of the acclaimed book Freakonomics, personality of the candidate plays a pivotal role in winning popular public support. (Freakonomics, 2005) The best measure of a pleasing personality is candidate that has a record of winning or leading a winning group. As Levitt argues that if people do not like you then you may have all the money of the world but still lose an election.

Public speaking skills, displaying high energy levels, having a good background in media and fine negotiating skills when it comes to deal with minorities, are some basic qualities required from a public servant. Goes without saying that these skills are absolutely basal and the other criteria can only be built on these foundations.

References and Citations

1. Cabinet Office of Japan, 2006. “Womenomics” Available on Available on
http://www.fpcj.jp/e/mres/publication/ff/pdf/00_womenomics.pdf

2.  AFL-CIO, 2006. “Ask a working woman” – A survey report.

3. Anna-Stina Nykänen, 2003. “Finnish Maiden” online journal.

4. Working in Finland, 2005. Report by Ministry of Labour Also available on
http://www.mol.fi/mol/fi/99_pdf/fi/06_tyoministerio/06_julkaisut/05_esitteet/tme7601e_workinginfinland.pdf

5. AKAVA, 2005. AKAVA – The Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals in
Finland

   Available on http://www.akava.fi/pages/english/english_main.asp?alasivu=76

6. CAWP Advisory, 2004. Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of
Politics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Available on
http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/Facts/Elections/CanLeg2006-PressAvisory.html

7. Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, 2005. “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Discovers
the Hidden Side of Everything”.

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