Social protection measures (family allowances and pensions) and social services (health, care services and water and sanitation) can reduce women’s poverty, reduce their unpaid care work and expand their choices, but only when they are designed with women’s rights at their heart.

Cash transfers can support women’s empowerment

Cash transfer programmes, such as family and child allowances, support women to make ends meet. The most effective programmes provide cash, but also access to services such as education, training and healthcare; are unconditional and universal, avoiding means-testing which can be costly and stigmatizing; and provide support for women’s unpaid care work.

Social pensions are vital for reducing older women’s poverty

Because of the disadvantage they face in the labour market, women tend to accumulate lower pension contributions than men and are more likely to live in poverty in older age. Botswana and Bolivia are among the countries that have closed the gender gap in access to pensions, by introducing universal non-contributory social pensions, funded partly through taxing the exploitation of natural resources.

Social services are an essential part of the picture

Good quality public services are the foundation for women’s economic and social rights, but they must be tailored to meet women’s needs. For example, community health workers that bring services to rural women’s homes have helped to reduce maternal deaths.

Investments in services also reduce the drudgery of women’s unpaid care work. In sub-Saharan Africa, in households without piped water, women and girls carry 71 per cent of the water collection burden.

Percentage distribution of the water collection burden, in sub-Saharan African households without piped water on the premises, 2006-2009

Women and girls are the primary water carriers for their families in sub-Saharan Africa

Source: Based on Fajnzylber 2014.
Note: The results presented in this figure are based on econometric projections using data for one cohort of Chilean women from the 2002 Social Protection Survey. Factors like age, education and the presence of children were kept constant. The impact of other factors depends on the order in which each factor was included in the calculation, giving more importance to the elements introduced earlier in the analysis