UN expert urges greater focus on women in social protection schemes

25 October 2010

Warning that poverty is not gender-neutral, an independent United Nations human rights expert today urged countries to give greater focus to women within social protection programmes.

A gender focus can increase women’s participation in economic life, provide them with income security in old age and improve nutritional levels and food security, Magdalena Sepúlveda, the UN Independent Expert on Extreme Poverty, told the General Assembly committee dealing with social, cultural and humanitarian issues today.

She noted that women are more vulnerable to poverty because of discrimination and gender inequality, and highlighted the importance of social protection measures in achieving the anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals greatly depends on the strengthening of women’s enjoyment of the full range of their human rights, including gender equality and women’s empowerment,” she stated.

Presenting her report on human rights and extreme poverty to the Assembly, Ms. Sepúlveda acknowledged that in recent years, many countries have put in place or strengthened social protection initiatives to address the persistence of extreme poverty. These were essential to accelerating progress on the achievement of the MDGs.

“Successful stories in various regions indicate that even low-income countries can make significant progress on the Millennium Development Goals by establishing and implementing well-designed social protection initiatives,” the expert stated in the report.

She warned, however, that some social protection schemes specifically targeting women within households could, if badly designed, exacerbate or contribute to inequalities.

“Social protection programmes must be complemented by other social policies aimed at increasing women’s economic autonomy such as ensuring access to education, land, productive resources and credit, fair inheritance rights, full legal capacity, justice and freedom from all forms of violence,” she stressed.

In her report, Ms. Sepúlveda highlighted the importance of social protection measures in facilitating the achievement of the MDGs and provides recommendations on the core elements of a rights-based social protection system, including the meaningful integration of gender-related concerns.


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