This journal issue examines how social protection has been understood and implemented by the state, NGOs, and community organisations, and the impact of different initiatives on gender equality and women’s rights. It highlights the need for more women’s participation in the planning of social protection interventions, and for greater focus on transformative programmes that address structural barriers faced by women.
Women are disproportionately numbered among those in extreme poverty. In addition to the class- and race-based constraints on their lives and choices that poor women share with men, they also face constraints due to their sex. This creates complex vulnerability both for them and for their dependents.
Transformative approaches to social protection have much in common with gender and development as a field of research and activism because they are a fundamentally political way of thinking about poverty, its causes, and potential solutions. A transformative view of social protection acknowledges the political and social factors that shape poverty and deprivation. Policies and programmes informed by such analysis should understand the relationship between resources, choice, and empowerment. However, social protection policies and programmes are not always successful in furthering gender equality. They:
- Are often planned without the participation of those they aim to support
- Do not always take into account the practical and strategic needs of children and their (predominantly female) carers
- Fail adequately to promote gender equality in their design and implementation stages
- Tend to assume that gender inequality is intrinsically addressed in social protection initiatives, because transfer programmes and public works schemes frequently target women
- Sometimes assume that cash transfers automatically result in women’s empowerment in the household, which is not the case
- May neglect to ensure through ongoing evaluation that the programme responds to changing needs
- Do not always actively consider how best to make programmes transformative, which risks harming women’s interests.
The potential of public works programmes to support gender equality may involve: the type of work (for example, to what extent it provides opportunities for paid women workers); the provision of childcare facilities; and supporting and promoting women’s self-help groups to maintain and run facilities created by a programme. Public works programmes could also consider design elements such as flexible working hours for women and the use of public works labour to cultivate the land of female-headed households.
Gender analysis of the different roles of women and men enables social protection programmes to be more responsive to the needs of households and of wider society. A gender perspective:
- Suggests that a focus on welfare as one of a range of policy options is sensible, pragmatic and just. It enables elderly people to be independent and strengthens their power within their families. It enables school age children to receive an education rather than work to earn money.
- Encourages a holistic view of livelihoods that values unpaid work equally with paid work and recognises the amount of paid work that takes place informally.
- Highlights the need for a social contract that recognises the causes of poverty as social and political marginalisation, driven by economic want.
- Challenges development policymakers and practitioners to ensure that social protection schemes support the empowerment of marginalised people as the only sustainable solution to poverty and deprivation.