Recommendations For a Social Protection Framework That Empowers Women in The Asean

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Paper publication date: 
Monday, August 2, 2021

The integration of women in the labor market has been one of the most important drivers of economic development in the ASEAN. Research from the region shows that female labor force participation (FLFP) has been a significant contributor to inclusive growth in the region. However, economic gains have often not translated into equal opportunities for women and men, and economic development has not necessarily translated into women’s empowerment. Low wages, precarious and insecure work, unequal access to resources and services, and inadequate social protection that responds to the needs of women workers remain significant challenges for the ASEAN.

Across ASEAN countries, women work in the lowest paid, most precarious, and unsafe jobs. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, women are also more vulnerable to socioeconomic and climate shocks. Additionally, women bear greater responsibilities in the form of unpaid care and domestic work, which remains widely unrecognized because of gender stereotypes that view unpaid care and domestic work as women’s responsibility. This disproportionate responsibility leaves women with less time for paid work, takes away opportunities for decent work and impacts their ability to save or contribute to social security. This means that women also do not have access to social benefits such as pensions or sick leaves.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this situation by increasing women’s care work responsibilities while taking away jobs and income. The pandemic has thus accelerated the need for social protection systems that acknowledge the care responsibilities of women and address these systematically through gender transformative policies.

The ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection1 is a milestone in ASEAN’s vision of building prosperous and inclusive societies. Additionally, ASEAN’s commitment to SDG 1.3 to implement appropriate social protection systems for all and achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable highlights the importance of social protection in the region. However, much needs to be done toward the realization of this vision. The policy systems linked to social protection remain gender blind, while unpaid care and domestic work and gender transformative social protection provisions are missing from policies.

This paper highlights the link between social protection and unpaid care and domestic work, as well as presents recommendations for gender transformative social protection policies and proposals on design and implementation that can effectively address existing gaps.