What works in reducing gender inequality? Great overview from Naila Kabeer

June 18, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

We’ve been having an interesting internal discussion on inequality over the last few weeks, and this contribution from Naila Kabeer jumped out. So I thought Naila KabeerI’d nick it for FP2P

A gendered analysis of essential services highlights the scale of the inequality challenge but it also offers useful pointers for the design of more inclusive and effective social protection strategies. Social protection interventions need to acknowledge that gender inequality begins at birth and deepens during the life cycle of a woman. A gender analysis of poverty and vulnerability must be at the core of the construction of an inclusive and effective social protection strategy.

Gender analysis draws attention to:

  • some of the ways that people’s gender differentiates their experience of vulnerability;
  • gender inequalities beginning in the early years and the inequalities in household resources that are devoted to the well-being of children;
  • the greater degree of variation in a woman’s experience of vulnerability over the course of her life;
  • the cumulative nature of gender disadvantages that make women more vulnerable than men in the face of shocks and stress;
  • the struggles of working women, poor working women who manage the dual responsibilities of earning a living and caring for the family;
  • a lifetime of discrimination which leads to greater insecurity in old age.

Unable to pay others to take care of their children, poorer women face a harsh set of options if they are to earn a living. They can choose to work from home and accept the lesser pay involved. If they work outside, they may have to cope with a longer working day – they would have to rely on older children, usually daughters, to look after younger ones, they may take their children to work with them, or may leave them unattended in the house. All of these options have adverse consequence for women and their children. Married women with children are likely to face a very different set of constraints in managing their dual workloads to single women, women without children, or women who head households.

Early inequalities intersect with the domestic responsibilities and unpaid care that girls have to experience as they grow up. The result is that women face a far more restricted set of livelihood opportunities relative to men, rendering them dependent on male earnings to meet their need for survival and security. Women own fewer assets than men, thanks to discriminatory inheritance laws and lower lifetime earnings. They will therefore have saved less and will have fewer pension rights. A Social Protection Floor (SPF) must have a life-cycle basis and SPF design must make it easier for women to work, but also account for double burdens.

Women and NREGAWhile women’s overall participation in the labour force varies considerably across the world, women from low income households in most contexts are either in work or looking for work. This is as true in India, where restrictions on women’s mobility in the public domain have led to lower rates of female labour force participation, as it is elsewhere. In India, poorer households simply cannot afford to keep women confined to the home.

Here is some evidence from different countries…

Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT): Mexico’s conditional cash transfer programme provides monthly cash stipends to mothers conditional on children’s attendance at school and attendance at health clinics. The program has now been in operation long enough for both immediate and longer term impacts to be visible. Studies suggest that not only has it succeeded in increasing the overall school enrolment of children from poorer households but also helped to close the gender gap in education. Education has enhanced women’s prospects in the labour market. Recent research suggests that young women who graduated from these programmes are finding jobs higher up in the occupational hierarchy than their mothers. This is particularly true for women from marginalized indigenous communities.

Public works quotas and accompanying care support for women: Public works programmes in their conventional forms tend to benefit able-bodied men. The guarantee of work to all adult members of households rather than to the head of the household or just one member has been a factor in explaining the success of the Indian MGNREGA program in drawing high percentages of women. While the MGNREGA specifies crèches wherever there are a minimum number of women on the worksite, this has not materialized in reality.  Introducing quotas for women or, as with the Rural Maintenance Programme in Bangladesh, designing a programme intended specifically for women, may also help to promote their participation in contexts where discrimination may prevail. Redefining public work to include forms that women can more easily participate in is another option. Care-related work in South Korea and environmental work in South Africa were both found to be more conducive to women’s participation than construction work.

Direct transfers: Alternatively, in a number of African countries, there have been experiments with direct transfers to the working poor, many of whom are not able to participate in public works programmes. These may be provided as cash to subsidize food purchase as in Mozambique, or as vouchers tied to the purchase of specific assets or productive inputs. Direct transfer approaches are likely to be of particular benefit to women in those Indian states where there is no tradition of waged work for women, participation in the MNREGA is very low, and women have domestic responsibilities that make it difficult for them to participate in any public work.

Wage guarantees must be accompanied by other services:  Social protection measures can be designed to challenge rather than simply reproduceafrica-market gender inequalities. The Rural Maintenance Program in Bangladesh began by offering waged work to destitute women for a period of two years; but over time, and in response to various evaluations, built in a savings component as well as life and livelihood skills so that women graduated from the program equipped to start their own businesses. The ‘guarantee’ element in the MGNREGA program together with gender equality in the remuneration offered hold out the promise of citizenship to poor men and women although it is more likely to be realised in the presence of a pro-active bureaucracy and civil society.

Indirect and inter-generational design: Women’ s dual responsibilities within family and market mean that social protection measures directed at one set of responsibilities can have positive knock-on effects on the other. Conditional cash transfers in Brazil and Mexico, for example, were found to help women invest in their own education and in small livestock and poultry rearing alongside increasing their children’s education. In South Africa, not only did pensions to grandmothers have a more positive impact on the welfare on grandchildren than pensions to grandfathers, but it was also found to increase the mother’s labour force participation, since some of it was used to pay for transport and jobs search costs which they could not hitherto afford. In Mozambique, women were found to invest some of their food subsidy transfers in petty trading activities on the grounds that would enhance their ability to feed their children.

This is drawn from Naila’s contribution to a collection of essays on social protection floors.

June 18, 2014
Duncan Green