Last week, I sat down to write this blog post in celebration of Mother’s Day, focused on the need for childcare, which is indispensable to the many parents we work with at Hot Bread Kitchen. Mid-writing, I was stopped in my tracks. News of the leaked Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade broke, and suddenly I wondered how we could authentically focus on childcare this Mother’s Day, when a right that goes to the heart of women’s dignity–the right to choose abortion–was suddenly in such peril. While this right relates to Hot Bread Kitchen’s work supporting women’s economic mobility, candidly, we struggled to name the connections aloud.
Once our team began to discuss it, we circled around the fact that these two issues are two sides of the same coin, and one that is vital to our work: women’s agency. What’s similar about the elimination of reproductive rights and the lack of available childcare options is that they both curtail women’s ability to engage in self-determination and participate fully in civil society. The former restricts women and birthing parents’ bodily autonomy; the latter prevents women–who shoulder a disproportionate share of childcare responsibilities–from making a living, pursuing professional growth, or engaging in other activities outside the home.
What’s similar about the elimination of reproductive rights and the lack of available childcare options is that they both curtail women’s ability to engage in self-determination and participate fully in civil society.
Of course, the impact of having both of these conditions exist at the same time is not lost on us. Put together, these policy choices will push women and families back, even as organizations like Hot Bread Kitchen and our partners work to move us toward a more equitable future. Yet making sense of these similarities allowed us to refocus on the original goal for this post: childcare.
Focusing on one limitation on women’s agency does not demonstrate a lack of focus on the other. Each issue speaks to what we most want for ourselves and the women we support: self-determination. And for us at Hot Bread Kitchen, where our mission is to support women’s economic mobility through job skills and food entrepreneurship programs, self-determination can occur only with a robust and accessible childcare system that supports our members and their families.
Today is the launch of the “Day Without Childcare” campaign, which promotes an equitable, racially just childcare system and affordable childcare for all families. Childcare—or, more accurately, the dearth of childcare options and current lack of public funding for it–is an issue that affects all working parents in the United States, as we have seen throughout the pandemic and as was the case well before. It especially impacts Hot Bread Kitchen’s members, who work in food—an industry with “unconventional” hours that make it especially challenging to find childcare.
“I’m in a leadership position at my job. If one day I cannot really manage my childcare situation, I would either have to leave my position to get a lower position with less responsibility–and I wish not to do that–or move to part-time,” Francis, a Hot Bread Kitchen member, told our team recently. “It took me a lot of time to be in leadership. As my daughter was growing, that’s when I decided to take more responsibility, try to take more opportunities. If I couldn’t do that because of childcare, it would be frustrating.”
As a parent, I know what Francis means. We all want to pursue the opportunities that will provide the best life for our families. And while we are lucky to be based in a city and state that are committed to protecting birthing people’s right to choose to become parents, New York City is also a place where working mothers still do not have meaningful, structural support to manage their families, their careers, and their futures. I have two amazing children and have had the privilege to hold leadership roles in several wonderful social justice organizations, including Hot Bread Kitchen. My participation in the workforce simply never could have happened without childcare providers who spent their days with my children while I was at work, advocating for women, children and families. We were a team, because that’s the only way to manage work and family; they say it takes a village for a reason.
Despite the obvious need for widely accessible, affordable childcare, however, the policy needle has hardly moved. “Childcare is an issue that disproportionately affects women, and even more emphatically, women of color,” Charles Bonello, CEO of Vivvi, an employer-sponsored childcare provider and Hot Bread Kitchen partner, told me. “If employers want to keep women and other vulnerable populations in the workforce, they need to offer childcare as a benefit, and they need it to be accessible, affordable, and flexible.”
Policy-makers and employers take note: There is so much work to be done to make childcare accessible to working parents, and we offer our partnership to make it happen. During our culinary training, Hot Bread Kitchen provides a cash stipend for members to cover basic expenses, like the cost of childcare. Once members are working, our team can connect them to childcare voucher programs. We’ve heard from our members that this is vital support; it also meets only a fraction of their overall childcare needs. We are working to devise solutions, but this is a challenge that requires collaboration.
Living in a culture that supports working mothers is not just about parents and children; it’s about women’s autonomy and our ability to contribute fully to our families and communities. At Hot Bread Kitchen, we are working to ensure that members like Francis have the skills, connections, and confidence to make decisions for themselves and their families for the long-term. We are in the business of uplifting, empowering, and supporting women so they can achieve their potential–whatever they determine it to be. Because, when it comes to choices about how to live, or which opportunities to take in order to support our families, we should each have the agency and ability to decide for ourselves.