The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2013 data reveals that one in every three women has been subjected to physical injury, sexual assaults or violated, commonly by someone she is well acquainted with (, 2018). Such brutality makes women vulnerable to greater exploitation and dependency. Gender-based social protection is not a luxury but a prerequisite to any development initiative aimed at women’s welfare.

Social protection policies and programmes cater to individuals and households facing poverty and vulnerability, in an effort to mitigate risks, sustain livelihoods and increase resilience (United Nations, 2013). There are a range of international instruments and national legislative initiatives that reflect this endeavor globally.


Gender-based violence

The United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women recognises violence against women as actions that inflict physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, violate fundamental freedoms, or cause severe obstruction in the fulfillment of human rights (United Nations, 1993). This violence can be direct i.e., murder, rape, sexual harassment etc., or it can be indirect i.e. as a result of ancestral practises like female genital mutilation and honour killings etc.

Victims of gender-based violence are vulnerable in matters of security, and therefore, poverty. Their capacity to find employment and to secure a household income is obstructed (Bhatla, Chakraborty & Duvvury, 2006). Thus, they are pushed to the fringes of development.


Gender-based social protection

Social protection policies pull the victims of violent abuse back within the fold of development. Policies and programmes designed to cater to gender-based violence include the provision of shelter, health facilities, and legal aid. Cash Transfer Programmes (CTPs) seek to keep women from sliding down the spiral of deprivation and degradation by augmenting their economic position within the household and society.

Accordingly, social protection programmes are key to fighting poverty and realising inclusive development. Gender-sensitive social protection programmes are needed to cater to a diverse and vulnerable segment of the population. This requires a specialised approach, redesigning of programmes and delicate implementation of strategies that re-focus on women as beneficiaries.


The following considerations are critical for any attempt at rethinking gender-based social protection:

1. Social protection policies must be aligned with a fundamental rights perspective: Gender-based violence must be viewed under the human rights lens, as a right which emanates from the very spirit of being a human being.

2. Programmes must be multi-sectoral: Programmes must be inclusive of legal aid, security, medical and psychological health facilities, capacity enhancement through education and skills training, and advocacy. Efforts must be made to eliminate the principal causes of uneven gender power trends and widening inequality within society. Legislation and policies must ensure zero tolerance to violence.

3. Cash transfer as a core element of any social protection programme: Programmes that alleviate fiscal hardships allow women to escape from the clutches of abusive and debilitating relationships (Rohwerder, 2014). Such has been witnessed in India, Uganda, and South Africa, where women have been liberated from dependency and afforded ownership of land and household assets. For economic empowerment to be a true success, societal attitudes towards women's ownership of assets must be transformed (Bhatla, Chakraborty & Duvvury, 2006).

4. A no-woman-left-behind approach: Strong commitment must be shown by every stakeholder to include all women within national parameters of growth and development. Women of various backgrounds, ages, status, race, religion etc. should find their place within the social protection framework (Rohwerder, 2014).

5. National action plans as critical to achieving any long-term success: Short-lived, monocentric, and small-scale programmes are less efficient and unsustainable over the long run, while comprehensive/universal national action plans provide action lists with clear goals that cater to all (Rohwerder, 2014).

6. An integrated implementation strategy: National governments are central to establishing and funding national programmes, but autonomous and competent women's organisations should operate specially designed women-targeted facilities (Rohwerder, 2014).

7. Female-centric programmes with male participation: Transforming attitudes and reforming behaviours through a positive approach and not by a 'shame and blame men' approach is vital to achieving any success (Rohwerder, 2014).

8. Safety and security of women is a key challenge: Careful consideration of venue, outreach, and time-span of the plan is critical. Any risks in the form of family or community backlash etc. must be recognised and addressed.

9. Code of conduct: The respondents to gender-based violence must strictly abide by a code of conduct encompassing respect for privacy, informed consent, proper and delicate treatment of minors etc.

10. Extending the power of decision-making to victims and survivors: Decisions pertaining to leaving a violent relationship or reporting it to relevant authority must remain with the women (Rohwerder, 2014).

11. Active and sensitive response: Respondents to gender-based violence must be trained to respond effectively and sensitively.

12. Knowledge-driven campaigns: Large-scale awareness campaigns must be conducted to disseminate positive ideas that create cognisance among the populace regarding gender violence, women empowerment, gender equality, social inclusion and the rights of all (Jones, Stavropoulou & Presler-Marshall, 2013).


The Philippines example

In the Philippines, the government and non-governmental organisations collectively provide social protection catering to women, with a specific focus on gender-based violence. Establishing shelters, crisis centres, support groups, providing medical facilities, and conducting awareness campaigns, are all essential components of their multi-sectoral approach. Legal aid, psychological counselling, and other support such as skills training, including social and life skills training, are extended to the women.

Programmes are designed to gradually reintegrate women into the community. Male participation in advocacy campaigns is valued to successfully orient and inculcate respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms within the community. Finally, punitive action against transgressors successfully deters future incidences of violence (Rohwerder, 2014).


The impact of gender-based social protection

1. Evidence regarding the impact of CTPs on reducing gender-based violence is sparse and often conflicting. Some literature indicates an escalation in violence as the result of cash transfers, as women may be exploited and expropriated. This upswing could reflect heightened pressure from family and society (Bhatla, Chakraborty & Duvvury, 2006). Male family members may also feel emasculated, resulting in greater violence out of fear and frustration (Bhatla, Chakraborty & Duvvury, 2006). Moreover, CTPs view women as mothers and not as women in their own right and with their own needs. This reinforces stereotypical ideas and expectations of women in society (Bhatla, Chakraborty & Duvvury, 2006).

2. Results of CTPs, on the whole, are susceptible to the level of education of male and female counterparts and the level of cash transfer received by women (World Bank Group, 2014). The results are therefore spread out over a spectrum.

3. The results vary depending on who in the household has access to the transfer (World Bank Group, 2014).

4. Women are more inclined to spend on children's education and on factors that help reduce poverty in the future (World Bank Group, 2014).

5. Women make equal or greater investment in livestock and agricultural instruments than their male recipients of benefits (World Bank Group, 2014).

6. Public works projects can increase job prospects for women.

7. It is more difficult for women to make a shift to the regular workforce.



Gender-based violence is violence directed towards females. It is an outright violation of fundamental human rights protected and outlined by the mandate of various international human rights instruments. Social protection is a right recognised and categorically highlighted by the United Nations and other significant human rights organs.

Survivors and women having endured or at the risk of being exposed to gender-based violence are the focus of this article. The highly sensitive situation of these women, which involves risks emanating from their domestic environment, renders them dependent on support beyond their family or immediate network. Social protection programmes are the most appropriately positioned to cater to this risk and vulnerability.

Moreover, social protection programmes can support women to be empowered to break away violent circumstances by liberating them from dependency for their basic livelihoods. Social protection programmes must be tailored to the needs of the survivors of gender-based violence and ensure a multi-pronged solution. State and local level resources must be combined to ensure positive impacts are achieved.

To reduce potential negative impacts of CTPs, there should be transparent implementation, as well as gender sensitive monitoring and evaluation for iterative programme adaptation. Social protection programmes can protect vulnerable women if they are implemented in a manner that accounts for the particular cultural and social dynamics at play, to reduce dependency, empower women, and benefit society as a whole.



UNFPA (2018). Gender-based violence. Accessible: https:// [Accessed 7 Jun. 2018].

Jones, N., Stavropoulou, M. and Presler-Marshall, E. (2013). Resilience for All? Towards Gender-Responsive Social Protection in South-East Asia, UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNWOMEN). Accessible:

United Nations (2018). Universal declaration of human rights. Accessible: (May 28, 2018)

United Nations (2018). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Accessible: http://www.refworl 3ae6b36c0.html (May 28, 2018)

United Nations (2018). International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Accessible: http://www.refworl 3ae6b3940.html (May 28, 2018)

United Nations (2018). Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Accessible: http://www.refworl (May 28, 2018)

United Nations (2018). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Accessible: http://www.refworl (May 28, 2018)

United Nations (2018). Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Accessible: http://www.refworl (May 28, 2018)

Rohwerder, B. (2014). Social protection programmes supporting women survivors of domestic violence, GSDRC. Accessible:

World Bank Group (2014). Social Safety Nets and Gender: Learning from Impact Evaluations and World Bank Projects. Accessible: https://

Bhatla, N., Chakraborty, S. and Duvvury, N. (2006). Property Ownership & Inheritance Rights of Women for Social Protection – The South Asia Experience: Synthesis report of three studies, International Center for Research on Women. Accessible: Property-Ownership-and-Inheritance-Rights-of-Women-for-Social-Protection-TheSouth-Asia-Experience.pdf

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Social insurance
  • Other
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Programme design and implementation
  • Social protection definition and features
  • Social protection systems
  • Targeting
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Gender
  • Human rights
  • Inequality
  • Poverty
  • Risk and vulnerability
  • Social inclusion
  • Global
  • Philippines
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's