Why gender-sensitive social protection is essential for pandemic response

IFPRI has a useful new blog post out on gender considerations for pandemic response. Some key points include the following.

Men and women don’t benefit equally from social protection schemes:

Cash benefits (via e-payments) are widely recommended; cash can also improve household economic security and emotional well-being, which directly benefit women and can contribute to reducing intimate partner violence. However, the feasibility of safely providing additional in-kind transfers (including food or soap) should be considered as well, as women and children are often the first to reduce food consumption in response to food insecurity, and women may be responsible for daily shopping, exposing them to potential infection… When social distancing restrictions are relaxed, implementers of public works programs should ensure dignified work with fair wages where women can safely participate, with exemptions for lactating and pregnant women.

Naming women as the primary household beneficiaries of social protection programs can improve their intrahousehold negotiating positions, but also comes with risks:

Although broader evidence is mixed, a few studies from LMICs indicate that naming female recipients may improve women’s empowerment. We believe the evidence supports considering women as named recipients—while recognizing that particularly acute periods of the crisis (e.g., lockdowns) may intensify household tensions.

Therefore, in settings where existing analysis shows the feasibility and acceptability of targeting women, we see gains in continuing during the COVID-19 crisis. But in settings where targeting women was previously deemed infeasible, we do not recommend starting during the crisis and explicitly challenging norms during a time when tensions are high.

Digital payments can reduce the risk of crowding at banks or cash transfer agents, but can also disadvantage women:

Responses should consider that in many settings women are less likely to have access to mobile phones; existing programs have sometimes provided them for this reason. While mobile phones are a promising platform for providing information, it is important to keep in mind that improving access alone may not be sufficient; women also have lower literacy, lower ability to pay for services, and multiple constraints on their time

Finally, don’t forget the data!

Because these are complex issues and unintended consequences of programming are possible, more research is needed on intersections of social protection, gender and pandemics, where ethically feasible. At a minimum, monitoring statistics should be sex- and age-disaggregated and, where possible, data should be collected to ensure risks to beneficiaries do not increase