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Caring Cities: Buenos Aires

CHANGE and the City of Buenos Aires led a research effort to learn directly from mothers about the daily realities of caregiving and the impact that the free child care offered by the Juegotecas has on their lives.

This is part of the Caring Cities research report conducted in three CHANGE cities.

Buenos Aires is a world leader in bringing a feminist lens to urban policy. For more than thirty years, the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (GCBA) has been committed to advancing women’s rights. Buenos Aires was one of the first cities to adopt an egalitarian Constitution and create a dedicated agency to advance gender equity and women’s rights. In more recent years, GCBA has prioritized care policies as critical to helping women thrive, as the government recognizes that care is also interconnected with other policy priorities to achieve gender equity – including the eradication of violence against women and the promotion of women’s economic autonomy.

Using Data to Understand Care in Buenos Aires

In 2017, a law was passed to ensure the incorporation of gender in data collection and indicator systems, building on decades of mainstreaming gender in data policy. Quantitative data serves as an important resource to understanding the landscape and importance of care in Buenos Aires. It also helps to demonstrate the relationship between care, gender, and economic opportunity.

Indeed, caregiving tasks fall disproportionately to women in family groups. The large amount of time women devote to caregiving has important consequences in other aspects of their lives. Unpaid caregiving is one of the main obstacles to achieving economic autonomy for women. In turn, economic dependence on others in the family group creates situations of vulnerability, including to different forms of violence. 

  • More than a third of households in the City of Buenos Aires have children who depend on the care of adults for their survival and wellbeing.

  • 81%

    of households with children between 0 and 13 years of age do not receive external support for child care outside of school.

  • Access to child care support varies depending on geographic zones and corresponding income levels.

  • The Care Indicators System has calculated that, on average, women in Buenos Aires spend nearly 6 hours per day on unpaid care work at home for children, while men only spend 3:30 hours per day.

    That goes up in lower-income neighborhoods.

  • 37,000

    women in Buenos Aires (compared to 3,000 men) cannot enter the labor market because they must provide care for a family member.

Juegotecas: Collaborations Between the City Government and Communities

To reduce the workload of caregivers, especially women, Buenos Aires is investing in child care services beyond schooling. Currently, the City funds a range of services delivered in partnership with community and non-profit organizations, including Juegotecas, or educational play centers for children between 2 and 13 years of age. These centers provide free part-time support for children and their families by offering two-hour programmed sessions for different age groups two to four times a week. Led by an interdisciplinary staff, the Juegotecas focus on creative play and expression with the goal of contributing to the educational development of children.

At the Juegotecas, children have the opportunity to engage with a variety of toys and interactive games; participate in workshops on crafts, art, music, theater, and puppets; and organize special activities and outdoor learning opportunities with teachers and classmates. The Juegotecas also act as spaces for civic education, where children can learn about their rights.

Although they are not designed to replace the formal education offered in school, Juegotecas provide the opportunity for children to acquire basic knowledge and soft skills – including motor and language skills as well as cognitive, social, and emotional skills. In Juegotecas, children have the opportunity to participate in learning through play and the arts in an organic, non-pressured way.

Interviewing Mothers to Explore Caregiving and the Impact of the Juegotecas

CHANGE and the Secretariat for Gender Equality within the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (GCBA) designed a short-term research effort to hear directly from mothers who chose to use a Juegoteca to provide care for their child or children. The goal was to understand mothers’ experiences of caregiving and the impact of the Juegotecas on their lives. CHANGE and GCBA identified four main findings from the interviews: 

Mothers rely on peer and community networks to access child care support. Many see the Juegotecas as part of a trusted local network.

The interviewed mothers discussed how care work is often distributed horizontally through community and peer networks, almost always with other women. These networks rely on relationships mothers have with comadres (a trusted person or godmother) and neighbors.

For mothers, trust is a major factor in asking for child care support, and they had confidence in the Juegoteca staff, who are predominantly women and often from the community. One mother shared that the staff at the centers are people “that everybody knows” in the neighborhood, which reflects that many of the Juegoteca coordinators have been leading local child care efforts for decades. One interviewee was both a local mother and staff member at the Juegoteca, which further speaks to how embedded the centers are in communities. 

Mothers recognize the value of Juegotecas and the impact that professional caregiving can have on their children.

Interviewees discussed the wide-ranging benefits that the Juegotecas have provided for the development of their children. Some highlighted the social skills that their children were able to develop and credited the Juegoteca programming with helping their children show up more prepared for formal schooling. 

The professionalization of caregiving tasks was recognized and appreciated by mothers. Some cited the importance of the specialized play and creative activities offered by the centers, discussing how the care provided by the Juegoteca was an important complement to formal education.

In their role as caretakers, many mothers were anxious to provide the best opportunities for their children to succeed, even with limited financial resources, and the free high-quality care provided by the Juegotecas gives mothers “peace of mind”. Children have access to structured play, artistic development, and socialization with other kids that isn’t always available at home.

The care responsibilities of mothers leave them with limited time to pursue paid work and economic autonomy.

Almost all of the mothers interviewed discussed how much time and energy they devoted to caring for their children. When reflecting on their schedules, mothers used terms like “lack” and “scarcity” along with the challenges of “juggling” care with other important tasks. Many mothers shared that, because of the time required for child care, they paused or delayed their own educational and professional development.

These findings are aligned with various studies at the regional level that demonstrate the tradeoffs that women make in relation to employment and child care. Under current workforce conditions, there is an incompatibility between caregiving responsibilities and the demands of paid work. Most jobs require full time investments that are not aligned with school schedules or other demands of child care. For lower-income families who are unable to pay for private care, these dynamics have resulted in lower levels of workforce participation, especially for women. 

This means less economic autonomy for mothers. None of the mothers interviewed were able to participate in formal full-time employment. Many instead rely on part-time jobs with flexible schedules, roles that are often linked to precarious or informal occupations. Some do odd jobs sporadically or rely on their partners’ income or government programs to “survive.” Others combine several part-time jobs, juggling them with care responsibilities.

The part-time care services offered by Juegotecas allow some mothers to pursue paid work. The majority of mothers use the support to perform other care responsibilities.

Some mothers said the services offered by the Juegoteca helped them facilitate paid work by allowing them to leave their children in a safe and reliable place. However, given that the Juegotecas are spaces where children spend only two-to-four hours a few times a week, they usually do not provide the care coverage needed for many mothers to pursue paid work – especially, full time employment that tends to offer better salaries and working conditions. For young children who are not yet in school, the hours of a Juegoteca are not sufficient for mothers to pursue employment. For those in school, the offerings are not available every day, requiring mothers to find employment with flexible schedules. 

The majority of mothers discussed how they use the time freed up by Juegoteca services to attend to other caregiving responsibilities, including domestic chores, care for other children, and care for other family members. Some mothers discussed the challenges of caregiver burnout and the impact on their personal health and wellbeing. Yet few mothers use the time that their children are at the Juegotecas to pursue self-care or rest.

Many of the mothers using the Juegotecas have expressed the need for increased access to programming that alleviates the burden of care and allows for greater job stability, education, or professional development. The importance of having access to free care increased for mothers who do not have a local family support network to collaborate in the care of the children.

In sum, this qualitative analysis underscores the need to address the issue of child care from a broader and more structural perspective, considering the quality, accessibility, and regularity of care services, as well as the recognition and compensation of care work in society. Download the full chapter at the top of this page to read more insights from mothers who use Juegoteca‘s in Buenos Aires.

The research featured in this report is part of the City Hub and Network for Gender Equity (CHANGE) Caring Cities program. CHANGE has partnered with three cities in its global network – Bogotá, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles – to implement community-based research efforts that invite caregivers to shape local services and policies.

CHANGE believes that care is critical to gender equity and is partnering with cities to celebrate, learn from, and invest in caregivers.

Read the full report here.

City: Buenos Aires

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