Author: Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed

Applying lessons from gender-integrated social protection to disaster risk finance

Source(s): Centre for Disaster Protection

There is growing operational convergence between disaster risk finance and social protection, notably cash transfer programmes. But where does gender fit into these discussions and what can disaster risk finance learn from the large body of experience and evidence that exists within the field of social protection? Can understanding the gendered impacts of different risks on different people in diverse contexts determine what – and who – is or isn't protected after a disaster? How does this understanding feed into the design of instruments, such as risk pools or insurance?

Inequalities and vulnerabilities matter when pre-arranging finance for disaster response

Factors such as gender, age, disability, location, and poverty shape how people experience disasters. The COVID-19 crisis impacted more negatively those with poorer health, inadequate housing, and less secure jobs. Discriminatory norms, unequal access to resources, limited bargaining power, and insufficient representation increase vulnerability, especially for women and girls.

Taking into account how crises impact people differently is important in designing disaster risk finance. For example, weather-based crop insurance can help address the different risks from climate impacts that households face, but it has often failed to reach women farmers because of their lower levels of land ownership, literacy, and access to financial services. In some cases, such insurance schemes have not covered the type of crops that only women are likely to farm.

If we care about protecting vulnerable people and communities from disasters, gender matters. To date, the report card for gender and disaster risk finance is mixed. For example, among the sovereign risk pools, there are variable levels of consideration of gender in their design and implementation: the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility collects gender impact data; the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative collects sex-disaggregated data on participants and payout audits; and the African Risk Capacity, through its gender strategy, has committed to mainstreaming gender throughout its operations and also established a gender and disaster risk management platform with the African Union.

Where do disaster risk finance and social protection have common cause?

Social protection has already proven effective in reducing poverty, addressing the immediate impacts of shocks and reducing vulnerability. For example, during a severe drought, Kenya’s Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) significantly reduced food insecurity in the country’s drought-prone region but also helped participants accumulate savings, access healthcare, loans and credit, and strengthen social networks, indicating that integrating climate and disaster risk into social protection benefits resilience.

Social protection’s ability to respond to disasters depends on how flexibly and rapidly it can scale up to cushion populations against shocks. Cash transfers can be delivered effectively and quickly through existing programmes and systems countries have invested in before a shock. For example, Kenya’s HSNP doubled its participants in just two months during a drought. Disaster risk finance can help ensure that the right amount of cash is available at the right times when needed for scaling up a cash transfer programme in response to a disaster to provide protection against shocks.

Empowerment must be in the design

Social protection design and implementation are critical for gender equality. Predictable transfers enable planning and increase adaptive capacity, while unpredictable transfers risk negative coping strategies and worsening gender inequalities. Neglecting important gender considerations can undermine social protection’s ability to support women, and constraints related to information, mobility, time, and documentation can impact access during an emergency.

Some social protection programmes are integrating gender-responsive approaches to address climate shocks, such as Kenya's HSNP, which developed a targeting system considering women’s risks and vulnerabilities and uses digital distribution channels to address women’s mobility constraints. While research on social protection programmes that integrate climate-resilience objectives to address gender inequality is still new, evidence suggests that aligning programme design with resilience objectives is crucial. We can learn some lessons from the COVID-19 response for adapting social protection to better prepare for climate-related crises, and for advancing a gender-transformative agenda. Cash transfer programmes and in-kind support, which were adapted or expanded, often prioritised women as the main recipients to strengthen their economic security during COVID-19.

Towards inclusive disaster risk financing

Social protection has expanded considerably in the last few decades, but its coverage globally remains limited, with only an estimated 45 percent of the world's population having access to any form of social protection. Many low and middle-income countries need more robust systems to identify and help the most vulnerable to increase their effectiveness in disaster-prone areas.

Still, the growing disaster risk finance field can benefit from evidence on integrating gender equality and social inclusion considerations into design and delivery. Relevant experience includes targeting, timing of payments, and access to payments, as well as the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of systems so they are responsive and accountable to ensure that disaster risk finance reaches vulnerable households when they most need it. While evidence from social protection can provide some insights here, it is important to note that pre-arranging financing does not automatically empower women; it must be intentionally designed in.

Actors in disaster risk financing and social protection should collaborate to integrate gender equality and social inclusion considerations into the entire delivery chain, from disaster risk financing instruments to government budgetary systems to social protection systems. This collaboration can help ensure that appropriate design, incentives, accountability measures, and monitoring processes are in place for a disaster risk finance agenda which contributes to addressing gender and other intersecting inequalities.

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