The meeting organised by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) between 21st 24th October 2012, brought together academicians, politicians and members of civil society to deliberate over what gender specific needs, call for incorporation into the Social Protection agenda. What came out very clearly is the fact that gender issues are not to be discussed in isolation. Vulnerabilities, experiences of poverty and marginalisation bear different meaning to both men and women. Issues peculiar to women have to be looked at through a gender lens which is exactly what presentations focused on. Legal instruments and policy provisions, both municipal and international instruments such as Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, the SADC Code on Social Security etc. have been adopted by countries across the region but have not had the desired impact with regards to alleviating the status of women, or at least not at the anticipated pace.

Women unfortunately have to contend with customary law provisions which subjugate them in society as well as propagate stereotypical perspectives of gender roles. These contradictions in the law are accentuated by domination/over representation of women in the informal economy as well as in the lower tiers of employment both in the informal and formal economy.

In addition, populations in the SADC region which are predominated by women, have more men working in formal employment. What this means is that because Social Protection programmes such as Social Security are focused on formal employment, many women are left out of these programmes.

Social Protection programmes cannot afford to be gender neutral because this indifferent approach does more to relegate women into situations where they are susceptible to risks and shocks of daily living and thus poverty.

Evidently, across the region there is need to integrate informal workers into more formalised Social Protection programmes.  These can be interlinked with agriculture, cash transfer programmes, education, public works programmes, health programmes etc. Coupled with complimentary services and infrastructure, Social Protection can be a real empowering tool for women in the region.

This approach is encapsulated in the presentation by Prof. Sandra Fredman from Oxford University who in the Keynote Address argued for substantive equality as opposed to formal equality. This demands for structural changes that interrogate gender roles and perceptions in general.

FES, which is looking to publish a more comprehensive report on the meeting also managed to set up an interim Steering Committee for a network of Social Protection practitioners and experts. The Africa Platform for Social Protection (APSP) which is looking forward to working with FES was glad to see a regional focused approach to Social Protection that accentuated a peculiar concern for the region. Of course, context and Social Protection go hand in hand and this is just one example of what direction Social Protection can take on the continent by enhancing region specific challenges.

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