A feminist approach to fighting global poverty
Feminist development politics aims to fundamentally change the structures that push women and marginalized groups into poverty. The development of social security systems can concretely contribute to this.
In the course of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, material inequalities have worsened and poverty and hunger have risen again around the world. In addition, there are the droughts and other extreme weather events caused by the climate crisis, which will repeatedly place new burdens, especially on lower-income sections of the population in countries of the Global South.
During this time, the global community must not forget its promise made in the 2030 Agenda: End poverty in all its forms, everywhere (SDG 1). People who fall into poverty face many risks, such as food insecurity, poor health or social tensions. These risks can be significantly reduced when people are socially protected. In addition to education and labor market programs, the development of social security systems is therefore one of the most important instruments in the fight against poverty. Social security systems include all measures that protect people from individual and collective risks of poverty. Typical instruments are social security (for example, unemployment, health insurance or pensions) and social assistance programs (cash transfers are often used in the Global South). In its strategy document “Feminist Development Policy” published in March, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) also sets itself the goal of establishing social security systems, with a particular focus on ensuring that women have equal access to access to these systems.
However, the gaps in protection in this area are enormous: the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that more than half of the world’s population has had to live without basic social protection.
Proposals for global solidarity financing of basic social security systems
Social security is a task that each state has to finance with its own resources. However, some countries simply do not have the money for long-term programs that offer people security from falling into poverty. Especially if they are also facing a debt crisis and tax evasion. In order for them to provide social security to their population, the international community must support them.
Until now, however, this has been done to a much lesser extent. Therefore, human rights experts and non-governmental organizations are campaigning for the establishment of a Global Social Security Fund. Such a multilateral financing mechanism would participate in the establishment and co-financing of basic social protection systems, that is, basic health care and basic income security, in low-income countries. In special crisis situations, such as pandemics or natural disasters, it could also help those countries that would be forced to reduce their protection programs again due to short-term financial bottlenecks. Given that, in the long term, each State should be able to finance its basic protection systems with its own resources, care should be taken that domestic resource mobilization is also enhanced, for example, through tax reforms and measures to combat corruption and global tax evasion. In any case, international co-financing should only represent a stopgap solution. In Germany, the plan for such a global fund has been included in the coalition agreement of the federal government.
Global social security as an integral part of feminist development politics
Feminist development policy and with it the establishment of social security systems operate in an environment characterized by economic and political inequalities between the countries of the Global South and the Global North.
The dominant global economic system is based on the drive to grow, as well as the patriarchal and post-colonial structures that determine what work is considered valuable. For example, care work is devalued and feminized, and migrants are pushed into precarious jobs. This increases the risk of poverty for women and marginalized people, as they are less integrated into the labor market or work in low-paying jobs. People who have been discriminated against on multiple occasions are often even more affected, for example indigenous or disabled women have even less access to resources. With the help of social benefits, these inequalities are not completely eliminated. But at least they can be reduced. anyway then
Feminist development politics recognizes these connections and aims to fundamentally change the discriminatory structures that push women and marginalized groups into poverty. Feminist development politics sheds light on the relationship between poverty, security and participation. This is what the BMZ strategy paper “Feminist Development Policy” says:
“Only where everyone can participate equally in a society is stable and peaceful.”
Social protection systems can also be transformative for existing gender roles, as they address the systemic causes of these inequalities and put women and marginalized groups in a stronger position to act as change agents for social change. For example, by safeguarding gender-specific challenges such as maternity, access to the labor market or education can be guaranteed.
Leaving paternalistic paths and overcoming global power imbalances
The new funding mechanism, the Global Social Security Fund, could make a very important contribution to addressing these challenges. It also offers an opportunity to break away from traditional donor-recipient relationships, which have often been paternalistic in the past. The fact that this is a central element of a feminist perspective on international relations is also emphasized in the BMZ strategy paper on feminist development policy:
“The relationship between the Global South and the Global North remains highly unequal and is characterized in particular by economic inequality and the resulting dependency relationships between ‘donors’ and ‘recipients’. This asymmetrical relationship is based on institutionalized racist and discriminatory structures that consolidate power imbalances rather than dismantle them.”
Therefore, a governance structure must be sought for the new financing mechanism that helps to overcome power imbalances at the expense of the countries of the Global South. These countries would have to have the same participation and voting rights as the “donors” in the committees of the new fund. In addition, they should be able to decide for themselves how to focus their social policy priorities and which of the existing programs should be further expanded with funds from the fund. Therefore, the principle of individual responsibility (country ownership) would be of fundamental importance for the operation of the fund. The only criterion for the provision of financial resources would be that these be used to expand non-discriminatory social protection systems; how this is implemented in detail would be left to the recipient countries to decide. Finally, it is also important that civil society is involved in the decisions of the fund.
It is now indisputable that social security systems make a significant contribution to overcoming extreme poverty, protecting the weakest and strengthening social resilience in the face of crises. There is also agreement on the synergy effects that result from improving social protection for other key issues such as food security and adaptation to the climate crisis. However, it is not enough simply to increase the resources available globally for these tasks. A structurally new approach, a form of cooperation that is consistently oriented towards the principles of feminist development politics, is necessary to reduce dependencies and power imbalances in the global fight against poverty.