Title

State structures and the politics of child care

Document Type

Article

Publication details

Brennan, D & Mahon, R 2011, 'State structures and the politics of child care', Politics & Gender, vol. 7, no. 02, pp. 286-293.

Published version available from:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1743923X11000134

Peer Reviewed

Peer-Reviewed

Abstract

New and reconfigured structures of policymaking and governance present fresh challenges to gender equality seekers, especially in federal systems. In a world in which policy functions are increasingly being “uploaded” to international or supranational levels, “downloaded” to meso-level units, or “offloaded” to civil society and private enterprises (Banaszak, Beckwith, and Rucht 2003), the links among institutional design, policy activism, and policy outcomes provide fruitful opportunities for empirical research and theory building. This essay asks what impact state architectures have on women's political mobilization around child care. How might we theorize the effects of different types of federation and multilevel governance on child-care activists' political opportunities and achievement of policy outcomes? How adequate are existing frameworks for explaining links among policy actors, state institutions, civil society, and international business? We sketch some preliminary answers and show how recognizing the significance of the multiple scales and layers involved in contemporary governance can expand feminist research agendas and promote gender-sensitive policymaking. Child care is increasingly understood as an essential component of contemporary welfare states (Michel and Mahon 2002). Well-designed child-care programs help time-pressed earner parents reconcile work and family life and make it possible for lone parents to improve their economic situation through paid work. Universal early childhood education and care (ECEC) also lays the foundations for lifelong learning, indispensable for success in knowledge-based, postindustrial economies. Adequate public support for ECEC systems generates good postindustrial jobs for early childhood educators who work in publicly financed, regulated settings instead of in low-paid, informal, caregiving situations (Esping-Andersen 1999). Developing high-quality, universal ECEC in federal systems with divided jurisdictional responsibility, however, faces particular challenges. Most comparative social policy and welfare regime literature ignores state architectures by assuming that unitary state forms are the norm and focusing purely on nation-state governments and policymaking (Esping-Andersen 1999). Advocacy and policy initiatives on international or meso-level scales typically are ignored or underexplored.