With the publication of STAAR’s Guidance Note on Gender-Transformative Social Protection in Crisis Contexts, Rebecca Holmes (Senior Consultant, STAAR), Alessandra Heinemann (Senior Social Protection Specialist, World Bank) and Alicia Herbert OBE (Director of Education, Gender and Equality and Gender Envoy, FCDO) reflect on the key takeaways from the Global Forum in June 2023 on Adaptive Social Protection.


Crises affect men and women differently, and women and girls are often the hardest hit. For example, COVID-19 increased the number of girls out of school, as well as rates of child marriage and intimate partner violence.  Climate shocks disproportionately affect women and increase the time spent on care and domestic responsibilities. Social protection can and should be key to building women and girls’ resilience to these shocks. But in many crisis settings, the gender-transformative potential of social protection is not being realised.

In recognition of this, STAAR has worked with the German government and the Social Protection Interagency Cooperation Board (SPIAC-B) to produce a Guidance Note on Gender-Transformative Social Protection in Crisis Contexts. With an inspiring foreword from Svenja Schulze – Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development – the Guidance Note provides actionable insights for practitioners on how to best  integrate gender considerations in social protection policies and programming in crisis contexts. It builds on productive discussions and valuable insights which emerged from the Global Forum on Adaptive Social Protection hosted by BMZ and the World Bank from 13th-15th June 2023. 


Key insights from the Global Forum


The Global Forum on Adaptive Social Protection saw over 300 participants from 60 different countries representing government, development partners, and civil society, who came together in Berlin for three days of discussion and debate. The Forum focused on the role of social protection in unprecedented times, as countries around the world grapple with the multiple impacts of COVID-19, climate change, conflict and displacement, and economic crises. Discussions ranged from social protection financing, to data, information systems and digitalisation, and partnerships and institutions.

Gender equality, inclusive social protection systems and the importance of empowering women and girls were a major theme of the conference,culminating in consensus that  it is time to invest in gender-responsive and gender-transformative social protection. Practical guidance on how to do this, including key considerations and examples, is explored in STAAR’s Guidance Note. Here, we set out a summary of what this investment means in practice:


1. Make sure women and girls are adequately covered by social protection systems before crises hit.  Evidence shows that a range of social protection interventions – cash and in-kind transfers, insurance and labour market programmes – increase women’s income, productivity and savings, enhances their access to health and education services, supports their decision-making and autonomy, and can reduce gender-based violence. Thoughtful design and implementation are showing promise in maximising these benefits, laying the foundations for scale up in times of crisis. Whilst crises can present a unique opportunity for policy innovation, having these right foundations to build on is critical. The development of social registries, for example, have an important role in strengthening linkages between social protection and other services to meet the needs of women and girls ( listen to the example from Kenya here)as well as enabling  the scale up of social protection in the context of shocks. In Pakistan, for instance, the Benazir Income Support Scheme, which identifies women to receive funds, has developed a dynamic registration system that enables a rapid response to shocks and is challenging gender norms through its approaches in design and implementation. Some key gender-responsive features were also highlighted in the Forumincluding:

  • Promoting access to banking, financial services and digital payments - paying benefits into women’s accounts;
  • Using cash plus to enhance women’s skills (e.g., economic transfers coupled with advice, coaching, mentoring);
  • Integrating and addressing care burdens in a systematic way;
  • Mitigating and preventing gender-based violence;
  • Investing in gender data.


2. Social protection can shift social norms towards greater equality.  Evidence shows that cash transfers in particular can reduce intimate partner violence by putting the safety of women first and developing grievance mechanisms that respond to gender-based violence. Emerging evidence also shows the role that social protection can play in tackling harmful social norms, such as delaying child marriage. Another important way that social protection supports empowerment and transformation is increasing the resilience and agency of women through enhancing their collective strength, bargaining power and voice within  the household, the community and the society.


3. Social protection works best in combination with social sector investment. Social protection is an essential component of a broader set of policies and programmes to tackle risks and vulnerabilities in crises contexts and is most effective when implemented in combination with other services. However, this is not always the case in practice: policies and programmes on gender equality, climate and social protection, for example, continue to be siloed despite obvious synergies. An example of an integrated approach was highlighted by Mansi Shah at the Global Forum – the Extreme Heat Income Insurance,  a project piloted by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). The project aims to protect women’s livelihoods and educate them on the threats of heat by providing them with early warning mechanisms, access to affordable heat resilient technologies, and an index-based insurance mechanism which compensates for income loss created by extreme heat.


4. Collaboration and partnerships are essential – including with women’s rights organisations. Partnerships and coordination were another key theme discussed throughout the Forum. There was a strong call for country-led plans which development partners could support. This was also echoed by a call for diversity in partnerships, including across governments, development partners, civil society organizations, trade unions, and the private sector, to influence countries’ political economy in support of social protection spending. The role of women’s rights organisations was also highlighted as essential to reach the most marginalised populations and respond to their diverse needs.


5. We need more (and better) sex- disaggregated data. Much of the evidence on social protection is from stable, low-income contexts, and there is a need to continue to build the evidence base and disseminate findings on what works in crises contexts. This is particularly true in terms of understanding what key design and implementation features work best for recognising and addressing women and girls’ needs in crises contexts, and how social protection can support progress on gender equality and empowerment in difficult contexts. This requires investing in collecting and analysing gender disaggregated data in monitoring frameworks, and using the findings to inform future programme design and implementation, as well as measuring changes in women and girls’ empowerment and intra-household relations in impact evaluations (e.g. see the Gender Innovation Lab).

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Social insurance
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Governance and coordination
    • Laws and Policies
  • Programme design
  • Programme implementation
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Adaptive social protection
  • Gender-sensitive social protection
  • Shock-responsive social protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Gender
    • Gender-based violence
    • Women's empowerment
  • Resilience
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's