Webinar report: Gender inequalities in social protection


How can social protection schemes incorporate climate-resilience objectives and respond to the different needs of women and men? That was the topic under discussion at an online meeting hosted by IIED on 2 April 2020.

A woman showing her identification card to two officials

A woman receives cash transfer payments in Freetown, Sierra Leone, as part of the Social Safety Net programme that was set up in the wake of the 2015 Ebola outbreak (Photo: Dominic Chavez/World Bank via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Women and men in developing countries face diverse challenges in their responses to the impacts of a changing climate. Not only do they need short-term coping mechanisms, but in the long term, they must adapt to a new way of life. For households this may mean more expensive seeds, food, machinery or travel to a different place for work.

As not all households are the same, we cannot assume that dual-headed households bear a similar burden to those headed only by women, or that within a household, women and men’s challenges are alike.

Women and men will deploy different coping strategies and in turn, social protection schemes must respond to a variety of needs – not only short-term needs but longer-term strategies for becoming more resilient to climate change.

Are social protection schemes responding in this way?

Event coverage

A recording of the complete event, including the question-and-answer session with webinar participants, is available below and on IIED's YouTube channel.

Presentation summaries

Tracy Kajumba, principal researcher in IIED’s Climate Change research group, kicked off the online seminar by providing an introduction to the topic of gender equality in social protection, posing the question of whether and how these schemes could be gender transformative. 

During her presentation, Kajumba said evidence from development contexts suggests that systematically applying a gender lens to social protection improves empowerment outcomes for both women and men. She noted that cash transfers are better at providing assets to women than employment schemes. 

The second speaker was IIED researcher Janna Tenzing, who said that social protection was essential for managing climate risks. In the short term it could support coping and recovery from shocks and stresses, and over the longer term social protection could facilitate livelihood changes to adapt to climate change.

Tenzing reported on Ethiopia’s flagship Productive Safety Net programme, which addresses food insecurity in rural Ethiopia. She discussed the gender equality aspects of the way the country’s programme has been made ‘climate smart’.

After these presentations, there was an opportunity for questions from the online audience. The questions included ‘To what extent do you feel the big programmes mentioned here consider enough "promotive" social protection measures – for example, enabling women to participate in the labour market and reduce employment, status and income gaps compared to their male peers?

And ‘social protection measures often do not meet the needs of the poor and so how do they contribute to adaptation or resilience?’. And even ‘is it possible to provide a definition of social protection’?

The third speaker, IIED senior fellow Simon Anderson, shared the experience of the PRIORIZE Initiative in Mozambique. This initiative aims to test the links between climate adaptation interventions at local government level and social protection programmes – exploring whether the latter can be made both climate sensitive and gender responsive.

It was obvious from these three presentations that national and local governments must move beyond a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and develop social protection that responds to the differential needs and priorities of women and men, achieving gender equality in the process and a model that works for all.

This was especially evident in the work of the final speaker, Shaikh Eskander of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. His presentation was entitled “Gender (in)equality in climate finance” Bangladesh”, and focused on his research findings from a project undertaken with IIED’s Paul Steele, looking at how households bear the burden of climate change. 

The research found that despite contributions from government and international donors, households still bear a huge financial burden from their exposure to climate and disaster risks.

They found that female-headed households are spending three times as much, as a share of their incomes, as male-headed households. Women have less access to formal bank loans than men and are at the mercy of informal lenders, paying more for the money they need. There is a pressing need for a social protection policy response that recognises these differences while it enables all households to become more resilient. 

The meeting continued with further questions from the online audience. Susannah Fisher, head of research at Climate-Kic, chaired the event, which had moved to be online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In one way, this allowed many more people from around the world to attend: from masters students in the UK, to participants from the Basque Country, Tanzania, Cape Town and Suriname.