By Alexandre Kolev, Head of the Social Cohesion Unit, OECD Development Centre
Many very relevant things have been said about the adverse impact of gender-blind social protection systems on gender equality. Yet, at a time when many countries are embracing universal social protection, more clarity is needed on who amongst potential beneficiaries are most at risk of falling into the gender inequality trap. In the absence of gender-sensitive social protection reforms, my take is that the risk may fall disproportionately on those who may not be eligible for social assistance and who rely exclusively on social insurance systems. Indeed, gender-blind social insurance creates enormous space for perpetuating gender inequality.
Understanding why begins with recalling that social protection typically encompasses both social insurance and social assistance.
On the one hand, social assistance programmes are not conditional on previous payments of contributions. They are usually financed through general taxation and external resources. In developing countries, social assistance schemes have witnessed the most rapid growth amongst social protection programmes. By and large, social assistance, including cash transfers and benefits related to maternity and children, and social pensions have been instrumental in addressing gender-specific constraints in the labour market and society in general, increasing women’s income security and labour force participation. Yet, some specific forms of social assistance schemes are not free from criticism. Shahra Razavi rightly blames the paternalistic conditionalities often attached to cash transfer schemes for not acknowledging women as workers but instead reinforcing their traditional role as caregivers. Conditional cash transfers can also increase the opportunity costs for women to participate in the labour market by exposing them to greater insecurity if they have to travel long distances to reach collection points or health facilities. Still, I think it is fair to say that gains for women from expanding social assistance outweigh the costs. Continue reading