Applying a gender analysis
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendation on social protection floors sets a global framework for social protection aimed at alleviating poverty, inequality, vulnerability and social exclusion. Social protection floors are nationally defined sets of basic social security guarantees across a life cycle that include universal access to essential healthcare, basic income security through cash or in kind transfers and quality basic services. 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.
The development of social security systems in the 20th century is premised on the dominant male breadwinner model as evident in the ILO Convention on social security from 1952. Women can access social security only if they are directly employed, or benefit from men’s social security as their dependent. Underlying this assumption is that women are primarily responsible for unpaid care and domestic work in the home and men are the breadwinners employed in the formal sector. As unpaid care providers women do not have a right to social security. Second, with the persistent growth of the informal sector, fewer workers make contributions to social insurance schemes to cover their parental leave and protect them against unemployment, ill-health, and disability. Social protection programmes must consider women’s generally lower labour participation rates, more frequent breaks in employment due to childcare and elder care needs, higher prevalence of part-time and informal work due to their care responsibilities and lower earnings due to discrimination within the labour market. As women are disproportionately represented amongst low paid formal and informal workers they are less able to participate in contributory social insurance schemes. Therefore, social assistance through cash or in-kind transfers and public employment programmes become an important component of any social protection floor that aims to enable women’s economic empowerment.
Social protection programmes that use a gender and care sensitive perspective have the potential to go further than fulfilling women’s and girls’ practical needs and instead catalyse a change in power relations. The collection of resources included here provide an analysis of how to design social protection policies so that they can contribute towards women’s economic empowerment. A common recommendation across these different resources is the need to increase coverage and strengthen systems towards universal rights-based social protection programmes so as to avoid the gender discrimination and exclusion that are inevitable through means-tested programmes. Resources in other sections within this guide also highlight examples of social protection programmes targeted at specific groups of women to promote their economic empowerment. Targeted and means-tested social protection programmes can also be improved to integrate a gender and care sensitive perspective. However, they do not replace the need for universal social protection programmes. Further resources are also available on the ILO Social Protection Platform and on the UN Social Protection and Human Rights website.