As part of our new partner blog series, WIEGO shares their work developing participatory early childhood care and development guidelines for markets in Ghana.
Childcare services in Urban Informal Workplaces: Developing Participatory Early Childhood Care and Development Guidelines for Markets in Ghana
Sneha Sharma and Laura Alfers *
Rapid urbanisation has led more and more people to move to cities for better opportunities and better lives, many of whom turn to informal work to earn a livelihood. Globally, 60 percent of workers over the age of 15 are informally employed, and in developing countries, this stands at 90 percent of total employment. Yet city services often fail to meet the needs of informal workers and their families. And among all the basic services required to sustain life and work, it is child care services that remain particularly neglected.
This lack of service provision impacts women workers in more severe ways than men because of women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work, a situation that worsened during COVID. Research across 11 cities by Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO) during the COVID-19 crisis showed that more than 54% of women workers reported an increase in their care responsibilities. This had a clear impact on earnings, and the recovery of income for those reporting increased care responsibilities was significantly lower than that for those without increased care responsibilities.
However, even when programmes and policies for childcare support are implemented, they tend to focus on formal workplaces such as factories, offices, and shops, missing the types of places in which workers in the informal economy operate, such as roadsides, markets, and even their own homes. Due to a lack of available and appropriate services, women are regularly left with no other option than to take their children along with them to work. These landfills, city streets, and markets are unsafe and inappropriate spaces to care for a young child, and working and caring at the same time reduces women’s earning potential.
Over the years, WIEGO’s work with women workers in informal employment has highlighted the lack of supportive standards and regulatory frameworks as a major barrier in extending childcare services to these workers. Centres with high running costs and fees are often the only ones able to meet such stringent criteria. Women workers in the informal economy are unable to afford these centres, and they are left to rely on unregistered centres lacking basic quality standards. The case of South Africa highlights this problem, with only high-cost centres gaining formal registration, benefiting from government support, and being able to maintain quality work conditions. Existing guidelines and standards for childcare centres are not appropriate for poorly resourced areas with a lack of space and constrained access to water and sanitation.
In this respect, urban planning and related regulations can play a crucial role in the provision of childcare services that support the needs of women informal workers and ensure the well-being of young children. Even in countries like Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria, and others in Africa that have developed inter-sectoral early childhood development policies, the provision of childcare services is low, as implementation remains a challenge. These policies are not supported by necessary legal frameworks or implementation plans, and the multiple actors involved in delivery make coordination difficult.
This challenge was reflected in a review of Ghana’s existing Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) policy. The analysis found some positive aspects of the policy: prioritisation of community norm change, institutional capacity development for mainstreaming ECCD into programme planning, and guidance to approach ECCD as a comprehensive issue. Where the policy fell short was in its lack of recognition of women in informal work as both users and providers of these care services. There remained a gap in the policy to address the challenges faced by women workers in informal employment in utilising childcare services due to a lack of affordability or accessibility. Another major gap was the lack of guidance for service delivery in a multi-stakeholder context, in particular the lack of procedures and standards that would enable successful collaboration between national-level ministries and the local levels of government that govern urban informal workplaces.
With this review, WIEGO’s Accra Focal Cities team began conceptualising a framework that could guide the delivery and realisation of ECCD services, with defined roles and responsibilities for the local urban government in service provision. The guidelines were aimed at developing and enhancing the quality of ECCD services in child care centres in and around the city’s bustling markets, which provide employment to over 40 percent of women workers in Greater Accra. In particular, they focused on defining the expectations of stakeholders, providing a framework and benchmarks to assess the delivery of ECCD services, and increasing access to ECCD services for women informal traders working in and around urban markets.
The guideline development process was founded on participatory principles, ensuring the inclusion of the multiple stakeholders needed for effective implementation. To facilitate this, the team formed a reference group made up of child care workers, market and street traders association leaders, officials from national ministries such as the Department of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, as well as local-level officials. The reference group also included two experts: an urban planning specialist and an ECCD specialist. Several round table, small group, and advisory group meetings were carefully facilitated so that all stakeholders could contribute to the guidelines, drawing on their own experiences and knowledge. These processes were supported by field visits and field engagements by the Accra City representatives to keep the guidelines grounded in the realities of the market setting.
The members of the reference group also collaborated with the experts to test ideas and concepts and identify best practices and innovations to include in the guidelines. Following the framework of nurturing care set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the guidelines detail the best practices and standards related to good health, adequate nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety, and opportunities for early learning. These guidelines also specify the standards of service and practices for supporting decent working conditions for care workers and other staff. The document provides guidance for the management structure, including parents who work in these markets as traders, representatives from market-based organisations, and the department of social welfare, their roles and responsibilities, and lays down processes for smooth administration and grievance management. Guidelines also provide clear instructions to ensure representation from the workers and parents in the operation of the centres. Finally, guidelines provide detailed standards around building and site considerations for the centre and cost and financing for the operations.
Having developed the guidelines, the team is currently focusing on piloting them at two sites: Makola Market and Ga East Market in Accra. Working with the women street vendors, care workers, market leaders, and local-level governments, the implementation will involve capacity building and training of the stakeholders on the processes laid down in the guidelines. The management committee will also develop plans for the monitoring and evaluation of the pilots. In keeping with the participatory nature of this process, guideline implementation will be governed by a multistakeholder “creche management platform” with representation from parents, care workers, traders, market leaders, and local authorities.
The eventual aim of this process is to reform and develop municipal guidelines for establishing accessible and appropriate childcare services in and around Accra’s urban markets. Crucially,it creates space for women informal workers themselves to participate in the oversight and governance of the child care centres. The hope is that such practices will be incorporated into Ghana’s ECCD policy, which is currently undergoing revision.
The guidelines for ECCD services in and around urban markets make a modest attempt to address some of the identified gaps in policy content and programmatic direction in the current version of the ECCD policy. Lessons and information that will be generated from the guideline formulation process and pilot implementation could be an invaluable resource for the policy revision processes in Ghana and other country contexts. These learnings can contribute to policy reforms by addressing the needs of women workers in the informal economy and ensuring quality care for young children through improved services in informal workspaces.
*Sneha Sharma, Project Manager- Childcare for Women Workers in Informal Employment (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising)
*Dr. Laura Alfers (PhD), Director, Social Protection Programme (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising)