FAO in North America

FAO and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW): social protection, key ingredient for fighting hunger and poverty


UN Headquarters in New York from 11-22 March
FAO and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW): social protection, key ingredient for fighting hunger and poverty

The priority themes for this year’s edition of CSW are key for FAO: social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. In this Q&A, FAO Policy Officer, Elizabeth Koechlein explains the links that exist between the priority themes and eliminating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition as well as the reasons why increasing women’s access to services is key for increased productivity, economic empowerment and more healthy rural communities around the globe.

Why are social protection and gender relevant to FAO’s mission?

Three quarters of the chronically undernourished and poor reside in rural areas. The rural poor tend to be family farmers, fishers and foresters dependent on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods. Strong evidence, led by FAO and other partners, shows the important impacts of social protection in terms of food security, dietary diversity, enhancing the economic capacity of the poorest, while generating multiplier effects in local economies- generating demand, purchases and economic activities.

Many of those who benefit from social protection are women. Globally, 60 percent of employed women work in the agricultural sector and play important roles in rural economics and in food security and nutrition. Given that women confront gender-specific risks across the lifecycle, such as widowhood or maternity, and typically face greater challenges than men in constructing secure livelihoods, accumulating assets and developing capacity to manage risks effectively, well designed social protection can contribute to enhancing the productivity of rural women and to closing the gender gap in agriculture. Closing this gap contributes to the achievement of broader economic and social development goals. 

Why should social protection be gender-sensitive?

Social protection’s positive impact on gender equality is not always automatic. Evidence shows that when a gender lens is employed systematically in programme design and implementation, social protection has the potential to promote socio-economic empowerment among poor rural women while reducing gender inequalities. However, gender-blind policy design can serve to reinforce gender stereotypes and exacerbate gender inequality.

Access to contributory and non-contributory social protection is expanding. However, access still remains inadequate in rural areas, and particularly for rural women. Even in the presence of social protection programmes, rural women may face gender-related barriers to participate in and benefit equally from social protection such as unequal care burden, mobility constraints, illiteracy and limited access to information. Further, rural women may not be able to use and benefit equally from transfers due to weak bargaining power and intra-household dynamics that disadvantage them. These issues call for gender-sensitive social protection that both addresses gender specific risks and is equally accessible to and relevant for men and women.

What is FAO doing?

  • FAO develops the capacity of social protection practitioners and decision-makers to design, deliver and monitor gender-responsive social protection through technical guidance and south-south learning. To this end, FAO has recently released the Technical Guidance Toolkit on gender-sensitive social protection programming to combat rural poverty and hunger.
  • FAO has been building the evidence base on the role of social protection in the economic empowerment of rural populations through the Protection to Production programme (PtoP) and other work.
  • Social protection’s potential to empower rural women is enhanced when single schemes are complemented with broader and gender-responsive livelihood support. To this end, FAO works on gender-responsive cash + and other social protection + programming and enhances the coherence between ministries of social welfare and ministries of social protection.
  • FAO will be hosting a CSW63 Side event on Wednesday, 13 March 2019 from 18:30-19:45 in Conference Room 11 of the GA Building in UN Headquarters in NY for those attend the CSW. A recording will be made available after. FAO will also participate in other side events, which can be found in the CSW63 calendar of side events.

FAO’s Social Protection website: