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Is social protection gender-blind?

Written by Rebecca Holmes, Nicola Jones


With an introduction from Professor Maxine Molyneux- Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute of the Americas, University College London - Stephen Devereux - Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies - interviews ODI researchers Rebecca Holmes and Nicola Jones about social protection, gender equality and female empowerment.

Social protection
is arguably one of the great success stories of development in the new millennium, reaching large swathes of poor communities in countries from Africa to Latin America, Asia to the Middle East. Evaluation evidence highlights positive results in reducing income and poverty gaps; and on improving access to basic services for the most vulnerable.

But poverty reduction cannot be achieved without a gender-sensitive approach. Social protection programmes have often served to reinforce stereo-typical gender norms and gender inequality which perpetuate poverty.   

Reflecting on findings from their recent book Gender and social protection in the developing world: beyond mothers and safety nets - Rebecca and Nicola explore examples where social protection has been gender blind and in fact have risked reinforcing inequalities.

This discussion interrogates in more depth what social protection programmes could do to address gender inequality more strategically and across the life-cycle and sets out three key messages for policy-makers involved in designing and implementing social protection programming, which are:

  1. Gender-sensitivity should not be seen as an optional add-on but rather as a vital part of social protection policy and programming for effective poverty and vulnerability reduction.
  2. Social protection can help to tackle gender inequalities through relatively simple and inexpensive design changes, investment in implementation capacity, and the inclusion of explicit monitoring and evaluation indicators.
  3. If gender-sensitive social protection is to become a reality, we can’t shy away from the politics of social protection