Social protection provides a safety net for the vulnerable through policies and programs that offer financial assistance, healthcare coverage and social insurance.
“This helps prevent social exclusion and promotes social inclusion,” said Mahamane Cisse-Gouro, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division of the human rights office OHCHR.
Long gender gap
The long-term gender gap has increased due to social factors such as girls who are forced into early marriage and early pregnancy, or the full burden of domestic work, which inevitably leads to less access to formal work and the inability to pay for national schemes such as social security, insurance, or pension plans.
For migrant women, especially those without documents, the the situation is more dangerous.
“One of the main barriers for undocumented migrant women to access services or justice, is the fear that they will be imprisoned and deported,” said Michele LeVoy, Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants.
Even those women who get a job with benefits, tend to find themselves in the lowest paid jobs, while their childbearing and caregiving roles force them to opt-out of the labor market, resulting in a gender pension gap when they are old.
And the COVID pandemic, climate emergencies, emerging conflicts, and increasing inequality, make the gender gap even worse for social security.
Women’s participation is essential
Mr. Cisse-Gouro emphasized that in order to overcome all these problems, women themselves must have a say in the decisions that affect them the most.
“That is the most effective way to find solutions and to ensure that their right to social protection is fully fulfilled,” he said. “However, men continue to be over-represented in national parliaments and women continue to be under-represented in leadership positions in the private sector and trade unions.”
“There is a lack of women’s participation in public and political life in terms of shaping and influencing social protection policies,” he emphasized.
One young activist, 17-year-old Yamikani from Malawi, knows the struggles her community faces firsthand.
The poverty level in Malawi is shockingly high, with many families unable to afford three meals a day. According to Yamikani, 60 percent of children in his homeland live in poverty, and families struggle to provide for their children’s basic needs.
Only 12 percent of children in poverty are covered by social cash transfers in Malawi, and for all children under five, that number drops to 2.1 percent, Yamikani explained, in a panel discussion at the Human Rights Council.
“I am particularly concerned that the participation of women and girls in the decision-making processes of social protection is not enough, and it is not taken seriously,” he said
“By empowering us and valuing our views, we can ccontributing to the creation of social protection policies and programs that truly respond to our needs, deciding on the right methods, prioritizing and focusing on children who are in real need..”
Monica Ferro, Director of the Geneva Office of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), echoed Yamikani’s sentiments, stressing that gender equality is a prerequisite for women’s participation and leadership.
“We need a global economy that removes all barriers and empowers women to choose their future, to own their decisions,” said Ms. Iron.
“Social Protection schemes have an important role to play in doing this. In turn, a gender-equal society and economy – one where women enjoy equal opportunities and results in the labor market and in the public and private sectors – will make social protection systems more inclusive and sustainable.