5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Does shock-sensitive social protection promote gender equality?

How can equality and empowerment be better reflected in policy and programming?

Lab debate
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
13:00 to 14:15

The role of social protection in responding to emergencies has rapidly grown over the last few years, with increasingly innovative and adaptive responses to large-scale emergencies.

At the same time, there has also been increased attention to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in social protection policy and programming, as well as in emergency response programming. However, applying a gender analysis to shock-sensitive social protection has been missing, leaving a major gap in terms of informing programme design and implementation, with potentially negative effects on outcomes for women and girls.

This session will discuss where is the issue of gender equality and women/girls’ empowerment in shock-sensitive social protection debates, policy and programming? Why has this debate been missing? How can this be addressed?

Key points

  • Traditionally, shock or crisis situation social protection has not focused on gender.
  • Data and analysis are needed to create better programmes.
  • Effective crisis response policy and programming is built on sturdy existing social programmes.
  • Social workers are a huge part of social protection because cash can only do so much.


The role of social protection in responding to emergencies has grown rapidly over the past few years, but while gender issues are recognized in everyday social protection, they are largely absent during shocks or crises.

Efforts to address gender disparity in shock-sensitive social protection have been missing, leaving a major gap in terms of informing programme design and implementation, with potentially negative effects on outcomes for women and girls.

This is due to a number of reasons, including evidence and data limitations; it is too difficult to include gender in the face of other competing emergency priorities; and limited political support or acceptability of promoting equality and women’s empowerment.

Humanitarian emergency support takes place in response to a wide range of crises, such as armed conflicts, seasonal stress, economic crises and health epidemics. Shock or crisis response is often thought of as only the first few days’ life-saving response, but there are other stages.

Increasingly innovative and adaptive responses to large-scale emergencies, shock and crises may, in fact, present an opportunity to increase gender equality – but only if the right foundations have been laid.

Social protection targeting women has been relatively well received. Linking beyond the social-protection sector to other programmes of empowerment would increase this.

According to UINICEF, the first part of programming is the analysis; that is the bedrock. But there are challenges. Social protection is a constant, it does not start and stop, so analysis and evidence-gathering can be difficult.

UNICEF takes a life cycle approach, looking at the gap between boys and girls, and how that widens over time leaving women disempowered during a crisis.

Traditionally, the unit of analysis for social protection is the household, but intra-household dynamics are not considered. When programmes are not built on sufficient analysis, they are not designed to empower women. In other words, if you cannot measure it, you cannot change it, and it is very difficult to get analysis of intra-household dynamics. Evidence and data are crucial in moving the discussion from the emotional to factual.

Social protection should start from understanding risks to poverty and risks to shocks from a gender perspective. Social protection programmes often work in clusters, such as shelter, nutrition and water, but gender is not a cluster. Consider how men and women experience poverty differently.

On a practical level, more women than men do not have an official identification. Registration at birth programmes is a start in tackling this. In public works programmes, having a quota for women’s participation, childcare facilities and programmes that promote equal wages are all practical positive elements of social-protection design.

Getting social protection right in normal times builds women’s and households’ resilience. If gender-friendly design is the basis, it is easier to empower women through social protection programmes in a crisis


The vast majority of shocks that require some sort of response in Malawi are climate-related. In some cases, climate adaptation funds might be channelled into shock sensitive, social protection programmes.

Organised by


Francesca Bastagli
Head of Social Protection and Social Policy
Overseas Development Institute
Rebecca Holmes
Senior Research Fellow
Overseas Development Institute
Nupur Kukrety
Programme Specialist - Social Protection in Humanitarian, Fragile and Risk prone contexts
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
Tom Mtenje
Deputy Team Leader - Malawi Social Protection Programme
GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit)