The webinar, titled How can Social Protection Programmes Protect Women’s Right to Work?, took place on 29 March 2018. The event was organised by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The webinar discussed the ways in which social protection can enable women to work, either by providing suitable and gender-sensitive work or by enabling working women to access transfers and payments. It discussed labour-intensive employment, cash and asset transfer programmes where the cultural and contextual meaning of gender roles and rights have enabled a more effective delivery of social protection.

The webinar also addressed the question of women’s economic empowerment through social protection and engage with the importance of understanding the lives of women and men so as to be able to realise gender justice ends through social protection means.

The event was moderated by Lea Derr (Advisor of the Global Programme Global Alliances for Social Protection) alongside panelist, Hania Sholkamy (Associate Research Professor, American University in Cairo’s Social Research Centre).


The recording is available here and the presentation here.


Gender and social protection

Hania looked at the topic using three tools to answer, ‘what are the gender specific design features that ensure the efficacy and sustainability of social protection programs that provide transfers through work?’:

  • Theoretical knowledge on gender aware and transformative social protection;
  • The on-the-ground experiences of public works programmes in India;
  • The questions posed by an impact assessment of a successful social protection programme in Egypt, which found the impact of the programme on gender empowerment to be well under anticipated results.

She stressed that gender operates differently in different settings. It is also not a simple or static category defined by being male or female, as it saturates political relationships and the subjective identities of all political actors. Gender also operates differently across the lifecycle and differs in each age, race, ability and relationships. Therefore, gender considerations and gendered subjectivities, or ways of being, are key to understanding:

  • the viability of a social protection programme,
  • the impact and outcomes of a programme,
  • risks and obstacles that face a programme,
  • and a programmes’ limitations and potentials.


Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) –  the Indian experience

The largest public work programme is a good example that helped to consolidate this kind of social protection worldwide. It was launched in 2005 and has four features that empower women:

  1. Securing access and reasonable working conditions: the act aims to promote women’s participation in the workforce through a quota to ensure that at least one-third of all workers who have registered and requested work under the scheme in each state are women. They are also given preference to work on worksites close to their residence if the worksite is 5km or more away;
  2. Wages and access to financial services: the act states that equal wages are to be paid to men and women workers under the provisions of the Equal Remuneration Act 1976, which is very important given the wage disparities in the rural sector between men and women;
  3. Hierarchy and supervisory roles: guidelines suggest that adequate representation of women among mates should be ensured as all work requires the designation of responsible supervisors or mates.
  4. Regulation, decision making and ‘voice’: women should be represented in local-level committees, social audit process, as well as state and central-level councils.


Findings from an Egyptian Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme

Although not a work programme, recent findings from the Egypt CCT illustrate the tenacity of gender inequality in the face of social protection’s best interventions. The Egyptian programme began in 2014 and currently serves 2.3 million families with regular monthly payments.

              Impact evaluation

An impact evaluation of the programme, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), found that the programme had significant impact on poverty alleviation, increased consumption, child health and anthropometry, as well as nutrition. The programme was also found to be positively viewed in terms of its targeting, procedures and administrative aspects.


Although designed as a gender aware programme, it’s impact on women’s empowerment was found to be negative as it was measured through a series of nine questions on decision making in the household – including decisions on work related issues, such as decisions to participate in wage labour and decisions on agriculture, in which women could not make alone or with a level of authority or autonomy. 

This finding can be explained by:

  • research problems,
  • social norms which delegitimise women’s work,
  • status concerns whereby women prefer to claim the home-maker role,
  • political fears,
  • and economic relief provided by the transfers.

Evidently some of these possible explanations are good while some are not so good.



Whatever the reasons, it is clear that social protection programmes need to engage with the structural constraints faced by women. This includes culture, context and personal characteristics. Indeed, social protection programmes can only work if immersed in the contexts in which poverty is created, experienced and in which it may be alleviated.

Social Protection Topics: 
  • Programme design and implementation
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Gender
  • Labour market
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Middle East & North Africa
  • South Asia
The views presented here are the author's and not's