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29 Sep 2020

Balwadis provide 'positive impact' on women's livelihoods


A recent study on ‘Access to Affordable Daycare and Women's Economic Opportunities' using Seva Mandir's Balwadi day-care centres has found that ‘affordable, community-based programmes can have positive impact on women's earnings.

Balwadis (literally, children's gardens) have been run by Seva Mandir since 1986 to provide children aged one to five years in areas where government or other childcare services are not available. The main focus of the centres is to provide a pre-school education and nutrition to the children, combatting the high levels of malnutrition in this region.

This study has shown, however, that another benefit of providing quality and affordable day-care services is that it can help to positively impact women's earnings, especially important as the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to escalate.

We spoke with one of the study's researchers, Anoushaka Chandrashekar to find out more about the impact of childcare on children and mothers, its' future and the effects of Covid-19.

Seva Mandir (SM): In your words, what role does quality childcare provide in rural areas and to mothers?

Anoushaka Chandrashekar (AC): Quality childcare provides several crucial benefits, to both children and parents, particularly in rural areas. For parents it provides them a safe space for leaving their children while they go out and earn their livelihoods. It frees them of the mental stress and worry regarding their children and [lets them] concentrate better on their work. We have also seen that quality childcare provides important developmental and social benefits to the children, which families particularly in rural areas may not be able to provide, due to their socio-economic backgrounds. It provides young children with an opportunity for interaction with their peers, nutritious food and structured play and learning opportunities, which could be critical for their mental development, in the long run.

SM: You mentioned that one possible factor for a positive response to Balwadi use was Seva Mandir's Village Institutions and philosophy of participatory development. How important is it for women, especially mothers, to be involved and empowered in the development process?

AC: We felt that Seva Mandir's Village Institutions and participatory approach to their interventions in the community played a crucial role in acceptance of the Balwadi among the community members. In order to make the process more inclusive and have positive impacts on long-term development goals, it is important that women be involved in the development process. Since, it is usually women and mothers who are involved in childcare as well as in the day-to-day functioning of the Balwadis, their representation is imperative to the continuation and improvement of the programme. For this, it is crucial that women and mothers are empowered to be part [of the process] and voice their opinions in Village Institutions and other community forums.

SM: With the onset of Covid-19, what are your predications for the future of childcare and women's economic opportunities?

AC: The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted livelihoods and has had an adverse impact on the Indian economy. During the last few months, we have seen several cases of distressed reverse migration and an excessive burden on the economy of the regions which have seen a large influx of migrants. During our several field visits, we have observed some pockets, which have large male migration to Gujarat and other larger metro cities like Bengaluru. We anticipate that a large reverse migration would put a lot of unnecessary strain on the livelihood options in these regions. And as with any distressful situation, women and children are the most vulnerable sections of the population.

Childcare in India, and particularly rural India, continues to be women's responsibility. With childcare centres closed, more family members are at home for longer durations due to loss of employment. We anticipate a massive increase in the unpaid work and unpaid care work burden on women.

Recent reports have also pointed to the rise in domestic violence cases, which again has adverse social and mental consequences for women.

Given that this pandemic is here to stay and that the next few years will be focused on reviving the economy, we fear that childcare and women's economic opportunities will take a backseat for the policymakers.

SM: How do you think the results from your study can help shape the future of childcare and women's economic opportunities in rural southern Rajasthan?

AC: We think that the positive results from this short-term study will help advocate for expansion of quality childcare facilities in Rajasthan. We hope that policymakers will take notice of the results and incorporate the same while formulating and/or modifying existing programmes on childcare. We also hope that Seva Mandir can use these results with funders to expand their Balwadi intervention further.


Click here to find out more about Seva Mandir's Balwadis, and click here to read the full study.


The study was conducted by Arijit Nandi and Sam Harper of McGill University, Canada and Parul Agarwal and Anoushaka Chandrashekar of IFMR at KREA University, India, part-funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), UK and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.


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