The ‘Realising rights: how can social protection advance gender equality?’ webinar took place on 19 February 2019. It aimed to advance the discussion on how social protection can contribute to gender equality. The panellists discussed the lessons learned on what works in social protection policies and systems in reducing gender inequality; which policy features may inadvertently contribute to reinforcing the problem; the key challenges to implementing gender-responsive social protection policies; and how this agenda can be accelerated moving forward.

The event is the first in the new Social protection and Gender Equality Webinar Series, organised by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), co-hosted by the Gender & Development Network (GADN).

The webinar also corresponds to the celebration of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63), taking place in New York from 11 to 22 March 2019. The CSW63’s priority theme this year is social protection systems, access to public services, and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The event was moderated by Francesca Rhodes (GADN Advisory Group member and Gender Policy Adviser, OXFAM), alongside presenters Bijal Bhatt (Director of the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust, SEWA), Shahra Razavi (Chief of Research and Data Section, UN Women), and Francesca Bastagli (Head of Social Protection and Social Policy Programme, ODI.)

The recording is available here and the presentation here.


Key messages from the UN Secretary General´s CSW Report

Ms Shahra Razavi began her presentation by highlighting the importance of the CSW in documenting the reality of women´s rights and shaping global standards. She stressed that the CSW63 is taking place in a context where there is global evidence to show that women are at an elevated risk of extreme poverty compared to men.

This disparity particularly impacts women aged between 25-34 years; the age group where women are combining unpaid/reproductive work with earning an income. Women are also more likely than men to work informally, occupying the least secure and lowest paying jobs and having little access to employment and social protection rights that are conferred to those who have a formal employment contract.

Commenting on the main themes of the UN Secretary General´s CSW Report, Ms Shahra Razavi outlined the following key messages:

  • There has been important progress in improving women and girl´s access to social protection, public services, and sustainable infrastructure, but gender gaps and biases remain in the system. For example, only 41% of mothers with new-borns receive maternity leave globally and coverage can be lower in some regions, e.g. only about 16% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Non-contributory systems have been important in reaching women, who do not have access to contributory entitlements. However, benefit levels are often low and therefore not enough to lift women and their families out of poverty.
  • Gender responsive public services are important in reducing inequalities; however, barriers to access need to be removed (this is especially a problem for rural women and women in poorer households). Hence, the importance of mainstreaming gender into sustainable infrastructure.

Ms Shahra Razavi ended her presentation by bringing to attention that there is an opportunity to harness these synergies if greater coordination is reached and trade-offs are avoided between these three areas and potentials are maximised for promoting gender equality. Social protection, public services, and sustainable infrastructure need to work in tandem.

Cash transfers to women have helped increase access to education and health services but adequate investments in quality health and education services are necessary. She stressed the importance of public investments in job creation and the need to include women in jobs related to infrastructural services to avoid gender segregation. Finally, Shahra Razavi emphasised the critical role of finance and the injection of resources to bring about progress across these areas.


Social protection and gender equality: Experiences from India

Ms Bijal Bhatt’s presentation followed with a presentation of background information about informal work in India, which constitutes 80% of the workforce, and is 94% represented by women. Based on SEWA´s work towards improving the lives of people living in poverty and making cities more inclusive for poor women working in informality, Ms Bijal Bhatt shared some experiences and evidence found:

  • Recognition of work run from people´s homes is important for accessing social protection as an entitlement for workers.
  • Lack of mixed use and mixed owning policies in most Indian cities hinders access to infrastructure such as water and electricity to businesses run from home by women.
  • There is evidence that access to sanitation and paved roads reduces medical expenses by 56%, reduces waterborne diseases among women, and increases children education.
  • Access to climate resilient housing is necessary due to increasing risk of heat stress and flooding.
  • Assisting women and girls in understanding governance structures, political regime, ideologies, and representation is important to empower them to interact at all levels of government and ensure participatory governance. Moreover, building their capacities in understanding the intersectionality between social protection needs and infrastructure is key.
  • There is evidence that cash transfers in India have led to increased investment in utilities such as toilets, drinking water, cooking sources, lighting and energy.


Social protection: Evidence on gender equality

Ms Francesca Bastagli began her presentation by underlining the existence of a large and growing body of evidence on how effective social protection can be used to improve women and girls´ outcomes over the course of their lives as well as to reduce gender inequality. This wealth of evidence is true for social protection instruments that are well designed and implemented.

There are also examples of social protection interventions that do not lead to significant effects for women and girls, as well as examples of interventions that reproduce existing gender inequalities. Thus, there are two areas of concern:

  • Coverage: Despite progress in expanding access to social protection for women and girls, they remain at a risk of exclusion compared to men.
  • Adequacy: When they are covered, they tend to receive lower levels of support compared to men.

These issues are related to existing inequalities in the world of work, particularly the type of work women carry out and the trajectories their work follows. Ms Francesca Bastagli argued that even when social protection targets and is designed for women, it may end up reproducing gendered inequalities. She then outlined some examples of how these issues have already been tackled.

Francesca Bastagli wrapped up by mentioning four critical issues:

1) Having a balance between contributory and non-contributory social protection;

2) the valuation and redistribution of unpaid work;

3) types of participation in the labour market;

4) the sources and levels of revenue necessary to finance gender-sensitive social protection.


This blog post is part of the Social Protection and Gender Equality Series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by ODI and DFID on the topic. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!