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UN expert urges countries to focus social protection on gender inequalities

NEW YORK (25 October 2010) - Social protection systems with a gender focus can increase women’s participation in economic life, provide them with income security in old age and improve nutritional levels and food security, the UN Independent Expert on Extreme Poverty told the General Assembly today.

Warning that “poverty is not gender-neutral,” Magdalena Sepúlveda urged states to “devote increased attention to gender equality while designing, implementing and evaluating social protection programmes within a human rights framework.”

Women are more vulnerable to poverty because of discrimination and gender inequality. Therefore, “the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals greatly depends on the strengthening of women’s enjoyment of the full range of their human rights, including gender equality and women’s empowerment,” she noted while presenting her report on human rights and extreme poverty.*

She acknowledged that in recent years, many countries have put in place or strengthened social protection initiatives to address the persistence of extreme poverty. Such social protection measures were essential to accelerating progress on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Independent Expert warned, however, that some social protection schemes specifically targeting women within households could, if badly designed, exacerbate or contribute to inequalities.

“Social protection programmes must be complemented by other social policies aimed at increasing women’s economic autonomy such as ensuring access to education, land, productive resources and credit, fair inheritance rights, full legal capacity, justice and freedom from all forms of violence,” she stressed.

Social protection measures must also acknowledge the role played by women as providers of care, without reinforcing patterns of discrimination and negative stereotyping.

“Social policies must encourage a better balance in the way men and women share household responsibilities, in particular the care of children and older persons,” she said.

In her report to the General Assembly, Sepúlveda highlights the importance of social protection measures in facilitating the achievement of the MDGs and provides recommendations on the core elements of a rights-based social protection system, including the meaningful integration of gender-related concerns.

Magdalena Sepúlveda is the Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty since May 2008. She is a Chilean lawyer currently working as Research Director at the International Council on Human Rights Policy in Geneva. She has extensive experience in economic, social and cultural rights and holds a PhD in international human rights law from Utrecht University.

(*) See the full report: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/478/79/PDF/N1047879.pdf?OpenElement

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Independent Expert: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/poverty/expert/index.htm

For further information and media requests, please contact: Fred Kirungi in New York (Tel: +1 917 367 3431 / email: kirungi@un.org) or write to ieextremepoverty@ohchr.org.