Gender inequality, risk and vulnerabilty in the rural economy: Refocusing the public works agenda to take account of economic and social risks

Working and discussion papers
March 2011

Smallholder farmers and poor rural households are vulnerable to both economic and social shocks which hamper their participation in agricultural activities. Well-designed social protection programmes can help to reduce both the risk and vulnerability by building resilience to shocks and stresses.

Although the gender-specific challenges of women’s largely unequal involvement in agricultural activities are generally well-articulated, social protection policy and programming have not adequately recognised the gendered experiences of poverty and vulnerability and the extent to which gender inequality affects both social protection programme design and outcomes. To maximise the linkages between social protection and agricultural growth, and to improve the effectiveness of both for reducing poverty and improving food security, it is imperative that gender-sensitive measures are integrated into policy and programme design and implementation.

In this paper we focus on a sub-set of social protection programmes - public works schemes - which aim to tackle rural poverty and food insecurity and/or promote agricultural productivity. We use two case studies of large public works programmes, i.e. the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in Ethiopia and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in India, to analyse the extent to which gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities are considered in programme design and implementation. Both programmes aim to support agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods through creating community agricultural assets and infrastructure and improving incomes for poor households. Our analysis revealed a number of important lessons which can be used to inform policy dialogues on public works initiatives in other contexts as well as highlighting some key policy areas in the design and implementation of public works programmes which can support a more positive impact on gender equality and public works programme effectiveness.