The webinar, Bringing a gender perspective into shock-responsive social protection took place on 26 July 2018. Within the broader scope of shock-responsive social protection, the webinar discussed how gender is often not well integrated into social protection programming for resilience, highlighting the importance of employing a gender lens when dealing with emergency situations. The event was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG).

The webinar was moderated by Elizabeth Koechlein (Policy Officer, FAO), with presentations by Rebecca Holmes (Senior Research Fellow, ODI), Maria Libertad Dometita (Gender Humanitarian Response Personnel, OXFAM), and Julia Lawson-McDowall (Social Protection, Cash and Resilience Advisor, OXFAM).

The recording is available here and the presentation here. Read Part 2 of the webinar coverage here.


Bringing Gender Perspectives into Shock-Responsive Social Protection

Elizabeth Koechlein opened the webinar by conducting a short overview of the interconnections between social protection and shocks. Defining social protection as a set of policies or programmes aimed at protecting people from poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion, Koechlein submitted that social protection should address risks across the life cycle of individuals –  assisting them in avoiding or coping with idiosyncratic shocks, thereby enhancing resilience.

Despite growing evidence of the positive outcomes in terms of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls when employing a gender lens, even in development contexts, gender-related issues receive very little attention in mainstream social protection programming. Notwithstanding the difficulties in being broadly accepted and employed, gender-sensitive social protection directly contributes to achieving SDG 5.4, and have assisted in improving gender equality around the world:

  • By making women the main transfer recipients, social protection programmes can directly reduce gender gaps in access to health, food and education, and enable women’s accumulation of productive resources and assets.
  • Transfers can boost rural women’s influence in household decision-making and participation in social networks, with positive spillover effects on food production and nutrition.

Most importantly, evidence shows how women and men are exposed to shocks in different ways. Consequently, their coping strategies to deal with shocks also vary immensely. Women tend to be more vulnerable to certain types of crisis, because they face discrimination and unequal access to productive resources and services, in addition to frequently being excluded from decision-making. They also have fewer coping strategies at their disposal, such as less access to protective assets and different social capital networks to rely on in times of need.


Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in shock-responsive social protection

Rebecca Holmes focused her presentation on the importance of integrating gender into shock-responsive social protection. Disseminating best practices on getting gender “right” in social protection programming and addressing gender in shock responsive social protection planning, design, and implementation are key priorities. Getting gender “right” during “normal” times not only reduces poverty and vulnerability, but also builds women’s resilience and coping strategies in the event of a crisis.

Pragmatically, gender inequalities exist before a crisis scenario, and if not addressed before a crisis, they are often exacerbated. In a shock-responsive context, this entails the demand for designing and implementing social protection programmes that preserve the gains that have been made pre-crisis in terms of promoting gender equality.

If a gender-responsive social protection approach already exists, then adapting the design or implementation features of that programme to respond to a crisis will likely ensure the  gender-responsiveness of the response. Moreover, in terms of social protection reaching its core objectives of reducing poverty and vulnerability, taking into consideration gender in programme design and implementation can support equality in access and outcomes.

Simple social protection features, such as ensuring gender-appropriate work and equal wages, flexible working hours and work opportunities close to home, providing good quality childcare options, and banking for payments, directly contribute to:

  • Improving women’s access and control over income and assets;
  • enabling equitable access to basic services;
  • promoting reproductive health and access to healthcare services; and
  • increasing women’s confidence, bargaining power and social status;

The process of preparing a gendered shock responsive social protection policy must heavily rely on understanding the different needs, vulnerabilities and effects of a crisis on women and men, through a careful analysis of the available data. Paying attention to gender equality through empowerment objectives, positive messaging, complementary programmes and services, and the inclusion of men and boys in these processes can lead to the achievement of truly transformative outcomes.


Emerging evidence demonstrates transformative outcomes for women include:

  • Delaying marriage and pregnancy in adolescent girls;
  • increasing economic security and emotional wellbeing;
  • reducing gender-based violence;
  • increasing women’s decision-making; and
  • supporting changes in the unequal division of labour in the domestic sphere between man and women.

A key aspect of social protection programming in response to crisis is to be better prepared in advance of a shock happening, through a combination of planning, preparedness and designing interventions that can build resilience and offer alternative coping strategies to women and men in times of crisis.


Adaptable social protection programming

There are a range of ways in which social protection policies are adapted to respond to different needs in times of shocks and crisis, such as “piggybacking”, horizontal and vertical expansion, design tweaks, etc. Horizontal expansion involves adding a new case load to an existing social protection programme temporarily to increase coverage in response to a covariate shock. This approach brings forth issues of targeting to the forefront of the discussion surrounding gender and shock responsive social protection, specifically due to the inclusion of new beneficiaries to the programme.

Some of the economic and social barriers to accessing both emergency response and social protection programmes must be taken into consideration to ensure that women have equal access to shock responsive social protection. Considering the available evidence from existing studies from both the humanitarian and development context, care must be taken to ensure that women are able to access these schemes:

  • The targeting method must ensure women can access the scheme;
  • sensitising community and households; and
  • ensuring appropriate social protection programme design for target groups in the context of emergencies.


Vertical expansion involves temporarily increasing the transfer value for existing social protection beneficiaries in the context of a crisis. This approach tends to demonstrate that an increased value in transfers can have bigger effects in terms of enhancing savings and productive investments, while also being used for increasing girl’s enrollment in schools, particularly in secondary school.  

However, changes in existing transfer values, especially in crisis contexts, may affect intra-household relations – thus creating a need to mitigate potentially negative effects. These negative effects can be mitigated by ensuring a risk assessment is conducted before the targeting process, by understanding the intrahousehold social risks at play, and by engaging men and boys into the programme design and implementation.


Furthermore, when adapting social protection schemes to cater to women and girls, there is a need to consider how to integrate empowerment objectives through complementary programmes and services that are context-appropriate.  Although there is still little evidence on the topic, this process of adaptation can be done through:

  • Promoting positive gender outcomes, such as inciting conversations on joint decision making;
  • linking transfers to economic and vocational training; and
  • directing social protection beneficiaries to protection services, or services women might need in a time of crisis, such as health and reproductive services.


In terms of implementing social protection in times of crisis, there are a few implications that must be considered:

  1. Staff capacity and skills on gender issues: Staff knowledge of gender oriented social protection programming is key when implementing gendered interventions.  
  2. Modality of transfers: Recent innovations in technology may improve women’s safety and timely access to transfers. Receiving cash via SMS and other forms of e-payment in humanitarian contexts, for instance, have been seen to improve women’s safety and timely access to cash
  3. Collective participation: Participation of women beneficiaries and women’s organisations is essential given that women’s advocacy groups often haven’t been vocal in the establishment of social protection systems.
  4. Systems and Monitoring & Evaluation: Collecting information at the individual level, not only the household level, and then ensuring this data is analysed using a gender analysis.

Both the social protection sector and the humanitarian sector have seen important gains with regards to gender equality and have begun thinking strategically about how interventions can promote women’s empowerment. However, changing the narrative on gender to one which promotes women’s voice, agency and empowerment, instead of placing the theme on a secondary plane, is fundamental to achieving programmes that cater to women’s needs in times of shock and crisis.


This blog post is part of the Gender-Sensitive Social Protection Series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by IPC-IG and FAO on the topic. Please join the Gender-Sensitive Social Protection online community if you are interested in following the most recent discussions on the topic. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!