Social protection encompasses measures intended to protect people from future economic and social distress. As such, a typical social protection package should entail a multitude of social support services, including pension schemes and some other notable government interventions, which may enhance the citizen’s livelihood in times of hardship.
For women, social protection will imply the strategies taken to minimise risk in women roles, including as workers, mothers, and caregivers.
World over, giving attention to women’s rights in a bid to enable them flourish is one of the most current social protection and development priorities. Unlike their male counterparts in Uganda, a few women work in the formal sector for which most of the available social protection schemes have been designed. Most women are retailing a bantam of merchandise in shops, on the streets, or trading at crowded market stalls with a difficulty in access to financial services. Being in the informal sector means that most formal social protection mechanisms are not really available for them.
In Uganda, while the country runs a huge national pension scheme for public servants, its female employees are less likely to benefit. This is because many will often drop out of the labour force to take care of children in their infancy and/or perform their other honourable maternal functions.
Recently, government has made efforts to liberalise the social protection schemes under NSSF, private insurance cooperation, etc, but it still remains difficult to establish how reliable these mostly urban schemes have been in reaching and helping the largely female rural population whose work is informal. This may be attributed to several reasons. The most plausible being that the engineers of these schemes fail to specifically consider how, why and what women’s needs for social protection are so as to take profound consideration of them. In such events, social protection schemes in Uganda and most developing countries, often miss the mark in providing suitable protection to women.
The hazards women in Uganda encounter in their daily lives, which social protection seeks to prevent, manage, and overcome are wrought by their differences in their lifecycle, biological attributes and social norms. Women in Uganda, for example, have a longer life expectancy than men. This means that women are likely to have a longer period of old age.
This obviously exposes them to more prolonged risk. Suffice to note that a longer lifespan comes with the risk of widowhood and an inadequate retirement income, given their lower earnings stream. Differences like these imply that the features of schemes designed without hindsight on women’s special needs will turn out unsuitable for them. This perpetrates an inequality in access to social protection.
Social protection which will benefit women should, therefore, incorporate features which enable them to gain meaningful access to it, for example, accommodating lower levels of literacy, allowing more flexibility in requirements for official documents like birth and marriage certificates as it is highly unlikely that a rural woman will be able to adduce these and envisaging their family care responsibilities and thus bringing the schemes closer to the home. Being the most littered in informal sector, the social protection mechanisms should also accommodate small contributions and payments at flexible intervals.
Indeed, for the benefit of women, countries have moved from standard pension schemes which are typically available for the formal sector other defined contribution schemes. This is because defined contribution schemes are manageable since they depend only on the amount and timing of contributions and not the tenure of one on the job.
While Uganda has a growing financial institutions sector, they should improve access to credit for women since it can help the women improve their businesses, savings and also help them get through bad times. Besides, the country can explore new measures such as conditional cash transfers where benefits accrue to women who have met a specific criteria.
Equality of access to social protection requires programs that reflect the different nature of women’s work and the different risks they face.
Ms Ebaju is the National Youth Female MP.