There is a growing international focus on social protection in the developing world while at the same time, countries in the developed world are cutting back on social security in pursuit of ‘austerity’. The breaking down and building up of welfare systems in different parts of the world provide a fascinating context in which to examine the impacts of such programmes on women. Many of the austerity cuts have targeted single mothers and other poor women, adding to the burdens facing these vulnerable groups. At the same time, some of the social protection measures being introduced into developing countries are specifically directed at mothers who are seen as reliable vehicles for tackling child poverty. Such measures often place additional responsibilities on poor women. A human rights framework that is fully cognisant of women’s interests and entitlements is crucial in interrogating these developments and in helping to shape new responses that advance the rights of women.
We are pleased to introduce a new book on the right to social security examined from a women’s rights perspective that contributes to the articulation of such a framework (Beth Goldblatt and Lucie Lamarche (eds) Women’s Rights to Social Security and Social Protection, Oñati International Series in Law and Society, Hart, 2014). The collection emerges from an international initiative to focus on women in the interpretation and development of this central social and economic right. This initiative involved a webinar and workshop that encouraged human rights practitioners and scholars to deepen our understanding of the gender dimensions of social security and protection in the context of increasing poverty and inequality in the world. The book contains chapters that explore conceptual questions on the relationship between the right to social security and rights to equality and participation for women. It also considers the meaning of the right to social security in an age where the language of ‘crisis’ and the focus on ‘human capital’ shape dominant discourse. There are chapters evaluating the place of women within international law, including within the International Labour Organisation’s Social Protection Floor Recommendation and the work of other UN bodies dealing with social security and protection. There are also a number of chapters on specific countries’ social security programmes analysed from a women’s rights standpoint, including China, Canada, Australia, Bolivia, Ireland, Spain, Chile and the USA.
The book explores a range of ways of ‘engendering’ the right to social security. The first approach integrates the right to social security with the right to equality to ensure that social security is guaranteed equally for men and women. The second approach requires a systematic gender-based reformulation of the social security right by critiquing and reframing it in light of feminist theory. The third approach proposes a human rights approach to social protection that mainstreams gender and includes a set of guidelines that tests compliance of social protection programmes with human rights obligations informed by a gender perspective (this is the approach taken by Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, former Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights). These approaches are closely interrelated and lead towards the same goal of a gendered social security right that is socially, economically and politically transformative. The right to social security is also closely related to many other rights such as rights to work, health and livelihood. The authors of the chapters in the collection are mindful of the many intersecting categories of disadvantage that shape women’s rights to social security including age, race, disability, migrant status and many others. The chapters note the need for the restructuring of labour markets and the reallocation of care responsibilities in society if women are to fully participate as equals in all societies. These issues are intimately linked to the rights to social security and protection and require both national and transnational responses.
The book brings together research and writing across the disciplines of social policy, human rights and feminist theory. While it engages with scholarly debates within these fields it is directed, in a practical way, at contributing to the development of the right to social security from a women’s rights perspective.