In Who Cares? Jane Jenson and Mariette Sineau, along with seven collaborators, use case studies of childcare policy in Europe to study the changes in the welfare state. Before feminism's revival in the 1960s, it would have been inconceivable to document and evaluate societal change through study of a "women's issue" such as childcare. Indeed, before the revival of feminism, none of these books would have been written.
Who Cares?, is a study of the consequences of globalization and economic restructuring. Its subject is not workers or their partners but the welfare state policies that have shaped both the domestic and the industrial workplace since the end of the second world war. Jane Jenson and Mariette Sineau edited this collection of case studies of the progress of policy-making in Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden, and the European Community from 1945 to the mid-1990s. Unlike many analysts, the contributors to this volume do not believe that the welfare state is dead. Instead, they demonstrate how it has changed. Women's equality is the criterion of their judgments, and they do not think that cause is prospering. Their argument is made through analyses of childcare policy, where private life meets public life as growing numbers of "working" mothers struggle to reconcile their different sets of responsibilities.
The book examines both "citizenship regimes" and "discourse." That is, the contributors look at institutional arrangements, policies, and understandings and also at the concepts and rhetoric that support such systems. In the postwar welfare states that emerged in industrialized nations, the central idea was that everyone should be treated as "a full and equal member of society." Since "everyone" now, for the first time, included women, public policy was shaped accordingly. By the 1970s, partly because of the efforts of Europe's revived feminism, governments accepted the necessity to back up women's formal workplace equality with the "substantial" right to publicly-provided assistance with childcare. National differences trumped shared economic and political pressures, of course. Thus, France favours drop-off daycare (halte-garderie), Italy relies most on the family, and Sweden pioneers in parental leave that men actually make use of.
The contributors to this book feel, like Corman and Luxton, that women's participation in the paid labour force is central to their equality. State-supported childcare in turn is the key to equality at work. They therefore put to one side any linkages between women's equality and policies relating to their education, their reproductive autonomy, or their freedom from sexual exploitation and domestic violence. That still leaves an almost overwhelming amount of material to deal with. In a long, dense book, three synthesizing chapters by the editors are clear and helpful
In their introductory chapter, Jenson and Sineau trace the acceptance by the welfare state of the "goal of enabling mothers to reconcile their employment and their family responsibilities." Note the wording: this book demonstrates how rarely such problems are seen as relating to fathers. Different nations installed a wide range of mixes of government sponsorship of parental and non-parental (maternal and non-maternal?) childcare, ranging from paid and unpaid maternity leave through subsidies to stay-home mothers to state-regulated or state-funded institutions including pre-primary schools. By the last years of the century, governments were struggling to deal with unemployment and budget deficits. Often solutions included encouraging mothers to move out of the full-time labour force; with one stroke competition for scarce jobs and costs for state-funded childcare could be reduced.
Governments' somewhat decreased support of childcare now seems to lean towards less costly services and greater decentralization as well as increased flexibility and variety-patterns that we can see in the welfare state more generally. The contributors to the book are not happy with such changes, which policy-makers justify as providing more "choice". Who Cares? has a different interpretation, suggesting that "equality" has dropped from the agenda. Less privileged women are more likely to have suffered because direct state support of social services has declined. It is true that working-class women have tended to find publicly-provided childcare less useful and to be more critical of it. Unfortunately, current policies continue to respond less to women's preferences than to fiscal and political pressures.
Still, all of the states discussed do have childcare policies. Canadian policy-makers might find it useful to read these accounts of a policy area that just about everywhere in the world finds more important than our own leaders do. So too might the activists who have been struggling for so long to redeem the pledge of a national childcare policy. Naomi Black
(Books in Canada) -- Books in Canada
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