by Tabitha Mirza
When my mother immigrated from Bangladesh to Canada, she had thirteen dollars.
She reminds me of this as we talk about my family’s experience trying to afford childcare.
“When I first came to Toronto, I sent you to daycare for a short while. Weekly, I would have to pay five to six hundred dollars. We didn’t have that much money–it was a bad time.”
Though the details may differ, the struggle my family experienced is a reality for many immigrants trying to establish life in Canada. Their kids, like myself, will be aware of the financial strain and the strategies parents use to make our care flexible or affordable.
For low-income households aspiring for security and routine, pursuing ‘work-family balance’ by working from home can be enticing. It can also be costly and stressful.
When COVID-19 hit and physical distancing protocols were implemented, the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce worried about our members. Women-identified entrepreneurs in Canada already struggle with unpaid labour demands. These founders want to maintain their businesses and their income at the best of times.
Women’s experiences in business are shaped by their roles as moms or primary caregivers.
Many of CanWCC’s members pursued self-employment on top of existing ‘essential employment’ in order to offset childcare expenses and achieve ‘work-family balance’.5
The COVID-19 pandemic forced domestic, caregiving, and business activities into one space. Making all this work can be impossible.
In June, 14.3% of women with children under 18 years old worked less than half their usual hours, compared to 8.7 percent of men, according to Statistics Canada.2
Caregivers who work from home spend fewer hours on paid work and more time on unpaid work, consequently bringing in less income.
Summer vacation poses additional challenges for families on a tight budget. My mother managed a full-time job, entrepreneurship, and home-schooling. She relied heavily on my sister to support her:
“There was a time your sister worked for her high-school, their summer daycare. She asked her supervisor to be able to bring you. They accepted you, free, because she said, ‘my mom doesn’t have money for daycare, but it’s my responsibility to take care of my little sister. If I work here, I have to be able to bring her.’ Her supervisor made it possible for you to attend while she worked.”
The struggle my mother talks about isn’t an experience of the past.
Year-round, quality childcare is out of reach for most Canadians.
This is not okay.
Limited access to childcare exacerbates household income inequality and stifles prosperity.
In “Falling through the Cracks: Immediate Needs of Canada’s Underrepresented Founders,” the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce confirms that the impact of COVID-19 perpetuates the barriers women and underrepresented founders face when growing their business.5
Among immigrant founders, 37% spent more time on childcare since the pandemic. Fifty-three per cent are spending more time on domestic work.4 Seventy-nine per cent of immigrant business owners lost clients, contracts, and customers.4 Juggling the demands of home and business leaves little time available for leisure for restorative purposes.7
Lack of access to quality and affordable childcare is at the centrepoint of many of these added stresses.
The impacts of COVID-19 on business are different for founders with caregiving responsibilities across all intersections of identity.
It was important to share my story with you today.
Our lived realities provide a lens through which post-pandemic economic recovery efforts and a universal childcare policy should take place.
The government of Canada should take the following actions.
These recommendations will help repair systemic inequalities experienced by women-identified and non-binary entrepreneurs. These actions will address gender equity issues with childcare and unpaid work:
- Include women-identified entrepreneurs and business owners – particularly, immigrant, Black, Indigenous, LGTBQ+ founders and founders with disability or accessibility needs – in the design, development, implementation, management, and evaluation of all post-COVID-19 business recovery policies and programs3
- Collaborate with provinces and territories to develop a policy that assures universal, affordable, publicly-funded, and high-quality childcare for all Canadian families. Include policy around infant- care, after-school care, care during off-school periods, and care for children with special needs9
- Pay childcare and early childcare education workers a fair wage, commensurate with their training and responsibilities3’
- Treat child-care expenses as legitimate business expenses for the self-employed9
- Apply a gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) to the federal Employment Insurance program to improve access to parental leave for self-employed individuals and to encourage the sharing of care responsibilities between parents9
- Develop a national gender equality awareness campaign. The goal of this campaign will be to promote the equitable sharing of unpaid care responsibilities between men and women and increasing men’s participation in childcare9
- Include a question in the 2021 long form census about the allocation of time for household activities, with the goal of measuring unpaid work in Canada. Ask Statistics Canada to measure the effect of unpaid work on gross domestic product and its effect on women’s income and their entry/exist from the labour market9
- Use GBA+ to establish a comprehensive economic development framework for women-identified and underrepresented business owners with respect to their entrepreneurial preferences. This includes but not limited to promoting social values and personal benefits of business ownership11
- Direct municipalities to use existing data analysis to incentivize the development of child care businesses in “childcare deserts” to ensure available childcare supply3
1Canada, Department of Finance Canada. (2020). Economic and Fiscal Snapshot.
2Canada, Statistics Canada. (2020). Labour Force Survey, June 2020.
3CanWCC (2019-2020). Our Advocacy Agenda.
4CanWCC, & Dream Legacy Foundation. (2020). Falling through the Cracks: Immediate Needs of Canada’s Underrepresented Founders.
5Coleman, S., Henry, C., Orser, B., Foss, L., & Welter, F. (2018). Policy Support for Women Entrepreneurs’ Access to Financial Capital: Evidence from Canada, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and the United States. Journal of Small Business Management, 1–27.
6Friedman, G. (2020, July 24). Women face dim back-to-work prospects amid lack of childcare, stalling Canada’s economic recovery. Financial Post.
7Hilbrecht, M., Shaw, S. M., Johnson, L. C., & Andrey, J. (2008). ‘I’m Home for the Kids’: Contradictory Implications for Work–Life Balance of Teleworking Mothers. Gender, Work and Organization, 15(5), 454–476. (4)
8Hilbrecht, M., & Lero, D. S. (2013). Self-employment and family life: constructing work–life balance when you’re ‘always on.’ Community, Work & Family, 17(1), 20–42. (5)
9Lero, D., Whitehead, D., Korabik, K., & Abbondanza, M. (2004). Self-Employed Women: Policy Options That Promote Equality and Economic Opportunities. Canadian Women’s Studies.
10St-Arnaud, L., & Giguère, É. (2018). Women entrepreneurs, individual and collective work-family interface strategies and emancipation. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, 10(3), 198–223.
11Taskforce for Women’s Business Growth. Blueprint for Economic Growth Action Strategies to Support Canadian Female-owned Enterprises. Ottawa.