/Childcare in Brussels: How women are still left behind on the labour market

Childcare in Brussels: How women are still left behind on the labour market

Having children in the Brussels Capital Region constitutes a bigger obstacle to the participation of mothers in the labor market than in the two other Belgian regions. That has already been concluded by the Brussels Observatory for Employment in 2010. Therefore, the Brussels government and the European Union decided to invest in childcare centers across the region. The total budget for this is more than 25 million between 2007-2020. But what has this effort exactly yielded? Did we reap what we sow?

In the beginning of the 90s, the female activity rate in Brussels was the highest of the country. This is the percentage of women that work or are looking for a job. Some ten years later, the tide turned. Now, the difference between the activity rate for women and men is the biggest in Brussels. For 15-64 year olds, the activity rate is much lower among women (58.6%) than men (72.9%). This can be explained by several factors: the suburbanization of the middle classes, the traditional gender roles, discrimination in the recruitment of women but also to the desperate shortage of affordable and appropriate care facilities for young children for the people of the Region. This deficiency primarily affects women. Consequently, the women’s employment rate in Brussels decreases after their first child. Whereas in the other two regions, this is only from the third child.

The coverage ratio of childcare in the Brussels Capital Region is 34.7%, or one space for every three children. This is the ratio between the total number of places and the number of children under three years old. It is just above the 33% recommended by the European Council in Barcelona in 2002. Besides, the coverage ratio of collective childcare of young children is very unevenly distributed across the territory. The deprived areas of the city center and along the canal, where there are proportionally more young children, are among districts with the least facilities. In Sint-Jans-Molenbeek only 6% of needy parents find care for their children.

That is why the European Union is helping out. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) subsidizes the creation of additional childcare places for young children in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Those investments had a price tag of € 5,137,124 between 2007-2013 and for the period 2014-2020 there is a budget of € 8,381,138. This ensured respectively 237 and 362 new places. In this way, the committee hopes to increase the coverage and boost the activity of women. Currently, the construction of six childcare centres is subsidized by the ERDF. Three in Molenbeek, two in Schaarbeek and one in Anderlecht.

The European Social Fund (ESF) is funding the operating costs of such projects with an  investment of about 1 million per year. The action consists of the support of facilities for children under 3 years old whose parents seek work or have just found a job and entered into an engagement process with Actiris. When a job seeking parent takes steps in their integration process (counseling, training etc.), they can bring their children it a daycare centre. The ESF will finance the costs. The daycare must be in the Brussels Region and has to be approved or recognized by Kind en Gezin or ONE. The daycares reserve  places for these parents or increase their capacity.


Between 2007 and 2011 the coverage ratio dropped to its minimum. This is due the steady increase of the number of children under three years old and the more slowly increase of the number of daycare centres.  From 2012 it started to rise again.  From 2011 the number of children under three years old stabilized while the number of places continued to rise steadily. This resulted in an increase of the coverage ratio. The ESF goal is to have 540 available childcare places for job seekers by 2020. In 2014 and 2015, 449 children from 392 job seekers were placed.

But what is the evolution of the activity rate of women after all this effort? In the chart below we compare the activity rate of women in the three Belgian regions. From this we can deduce that only a small improvement has been made in terms of the activity rate of women in the Brussels Capital Region. This is in contrast to the other regions where the increase of the activity rate has been more successful.  Actiris spokesman, Jan Gatz, points out that it is difficult to compare the Belgian regions with each other. “Brussels is a city, the two other regions are not. That’s why we always try to make clear that comparing the region with cities such as Liège, Charleroi, Antwerp and Ghent can give a fuller picture. Unfortunately we can not make a perfect comparison with the cities mentioned, because FOD economy cannot give figures at the municipal level. In that case the error margin of the results of their surveys would be too big.”

Even if the number of childcare places has increased with almost 40% between 2000 and 2014, it seems like the effort that has been done is not sufficient. The coverage ratio is not spectacularly growing and the activity rate of women is not either. The ambition of lowering the disparities between men and women can only be fulfilled if the investments in childcare keeps up with the growing number of children in the Brussels Capital Region.