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Social protection and the empowerment of girls and women

women walkingSocial protection programmes are increasingly widespread across middle and low income countries to address extreme poverty and curb inequality. Large scale universal and targeted social protection schemes in India, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, China and many other countries are demonstrating the positive impact they can have while still remaining affordable for governments. The ILO Recommendation on Social Protection Floors in 2012 and the Global Goals attest to the commitment made by governments, donors and international financial institutions to continue investing in social protection programmes and broader systems.

The growing interest in this area of social policy is an opportunity to explore how social protection programmes can act as catalysts for women’s economic empowerment by addressing the particular vulnerabilities women face. Social protection includes social insurance, social assistance and livelihood promotion. Contributory social insurance is generally not viable for people living in poverty or working in the informal sector, as they do not have the means to make the required contributions. Thus, for low-income and middle-income countries, where women tend to be concentrated in low paid formal and informal employment social assistance and livelihood promotion are critical social policy tools. Without an increase in workers’ wages it will not be possible for more women to participate in contributory social insurance schemes that can guarantee their access to unemployment benefits and pensions. The key issues guide will therefore focus on social assistance programmes and livelihood promotion while recognising that these programmes are most effective in supporting women’s empowerment when internationally agreed labour rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

This Key Issues Guide aims to bring together some relevant resources for governments, development partners, civil society organisations and researchers to consider in designing, financing and implementing social protection programmes that can support women’s empowerment. The guide will first present literature outlining the specific vulnerabilities and barriers girls and women face due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, class, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and migration status. The subsequent sections provide an overview of how social protection including cash transfers, public employment programmes and universal health coverage can help to tackle these barriers and support girls and women throughout their lives.

Though social protection interventions cannot alone meet women’s rights to an adequate standard of living or decent work, they can complement labour rights and investments in quality public services for more sustainable and long-term changes to gender equality and women’s empowerment. The guide focuses specifically on policies that can reach those who depend on the informal sector for their livelihoods given the concentration of women working in this sector in most middle and low income countries. This is where the greatest investment in social protection programmes is needed at present. The resources included here will provide readers with examples of policy design and implementation that are most effective in promoting economic, social and political empowerment amongst girls and women.


Understanding the barriers to women’s economic empowerment

Empowerment as discussed here refers to a process by which women are able to identify the main causes of their deprivation and poverty, and act to change the relations of power that suppress their voice and autonomy. More...

Applying a gender analysis to social protection

Social protection programmes should apply the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality in their design and implementation. Yet in order to do so, the notion of social protection in the context of women’s multiple responsibilities as care providers, paid and unpaid workers must be revisited. More...

Social assistance through cash transfers for gender equality

As the majority of women living in low and middle income countries find themselves in informal employment, the design and implementation of social assistance programmes through cash transfers merit greater attention. More...

Social assistance and livelihood promotion for informal women workers

Women’s entry into the labour market in response to economic crises and men’s falling wages does not necessarily lead to their economic empowerment. More...

Universal healthcare coverage

Data shows that women will use healthcare services more than men as they bear a greater burden of disease. Despite this girls and women are more likely to have unmet healthcare needs across their lifetimes. More...

Global Goals and financing social protection

The Global Goals reinforce governments’ commitment in calling for social protection systems that can alleviate poverty, redistribute women’s unpaid care work and reduce inequalities. More...

This guide was produced by BRIDGE. Expert advice was provided by Deepta Chopra of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).