14 October 2022 For a more equal future – Social Protection as a driver for female empowerment

Speech by Development Minister Svenja Schulze in Washington D.C.

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Ms. Feingold,
Mr. Dethlefsen,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In times of crisis, we need resilient societies – worldwide.

Social protection helps people before, during and after crises. It helps to reduce structural inequality and creates social security.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that in places with social safety nets, all are able to weather a crisis better. In countries without functioning protection systems, people had to deal with the economic and social consequences on their own. More than half of the global population – about 4 billion people – have no access to social protection. They have to shoulder the risks associated with – for example – unemployment, maternity, disability and workplace accidents by themselves. They have no claims to basic social protection, child benefits or old-age pensions.

Yet we know that social safety nets can significantly reduce poverty and hunger. Worldwide, social protection systems are already reducing extreme poverty by one-third. Social protection also has a long-term, preventive impact. It provides protection against economic risks. It can give people more options, especially in crisis situations. For example, for a woman smallholder, social protection means that a climate-induced loss will not plunge her into poverty but that she will be able to rely on a social safety net. This knowledge gives her predictability – and the confidence to make investments. It enables her to send her children to school. Social protection prevents poverty cycles. It also benefits the local economy. On average, for every euro in social benefits, one euro seventy goes back to the local economy in the form of spending on consumption and investments.

Together with the World Bank and the UN, I want to make headway on the global expansion of social protection.

Our goal is that people worldwide can live in just societies. One precondition for this is that they enjoy the fruits of social and economic development. This includes access to social protection – and in many countries, women and girls in particular still lack such access.

Often, women face legal, economic and social barriers that make it harder for them to participate in the labor force. They are more likely to work in precarious and informal jobs. This means not only lower wages but also exclusion from many social benefits, such as maternity leave and old-age pensions. Less than one in two women worldwide receive any financial childbirth benefits. In Africa, the rate is as low as one in seven. The German Development Ministry provides targeted support to women, for instance in Sudan. Mothers and pregnant women and their children receive transfer payments during the first one thousand days in the life of the child – which are particularly important for their development. The transfers serve to pay for food, hygiene items, and medication. Or take Bangladesh, where my Ministry has helped to set up an occupational accident insurance for textile industry workers – a sector which mainly employs women and girls at low wages.

So social protection does two things: it protects people against risks in life and it contributes to equal participation and, thus, more gender equality. To make that happen, it is vital that social protection systems take account of the daily realities and needs of women and girls, regardless of their social and family status. Better social protection can give women and girls greater freedom from social roles. It can reduce discriminatory power structures, such as women's economic dependency on their husbands.

The development of social protection systems is therefore a key component of feminist development policy. And that is what I am working for – what the German government is working for.

In order to assist our partner countries in making their social protection systems crisis-proof and sustainable, I have been using my stay in Washington to discuss this with the World Bank, the ILO, other UN agencies, and bilateral partners. Germany is pushing for increasing the level of funding for social protection worldwide, and we are convening leading countries. We support the UN Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection.

In future, we will increasingly gear social protection toward the challenges of climate change. The establishment of a Global Shield against Climate Risks is one important step in that regard. The Shield can help particularly vulnerable people – including many women – in settings such as droughts and floods. We need to develop public social protection systems in such a way that they can address climate risks and pandemics more quickly and in a more targeted way. There can be no protection against crises without social protection!

You can see that there is a lot to be done in order achieve social security. I will take up this topic in greater depth at an international conference in Berlin next year, together with our partner countries, global partners, and representatives from G7 and G20 countries.

Now I look forward to discussing this topic with you.