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GENEVA/NEW YORK (9 October 2012) – “Nearly 80 per cent of the world’s poor do not have access to social protection to shield them from the effects of unemployment, illness, or disability – not to mention crop failure or soaring food costs. Yet, if we were to dedicate 2 per cent of global GDP to securing this human right, basic social protection could be provided to all of the world’s poor,” stated Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, and Magdalena Sepúlveda, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“Following this summer's drought in the US, food prices are dangerously high for the third time in five years, and hunger remains at unacceptably high levels, as today’s FAO figures* show. The right to food is denied every time prices spike and people are no longer able to put food on the table. Food and other basics must not be left to the mercy of economic cycles – the world's poorest citizens must be able to fall back on basic social protection,” said Mr. De Schutter.

In a briefing note launched today, the UN experts call for the creation of a Global Fund for Social Protection (GFSP), to be housed under existing international agencies such as the World Bank or established as an independent body, and funded by donations from developed countries.

The dual functions of the GFSP would be to (a) close the funding shortfall for putting in place a social protection floor in least developed countries (LDCS); and (b) help underwrite these schemes against the risks of excess demand triggered by major shocks by (i) advising LDCs on suitable private reinsurance options, (ii) subsidising premiums where necessary, and/or (iii) acting as the reinsurer of last resort in cases where private schemes are not extensive or affordable enough.

The UN experts explained that many developing countries face human, technical and financial constraints and thus cannot afford the surging expenditure on social protection that is required in the wake of catastrophes such as droughts, floods or disease epidemics that afflict large population groups, while simultaneously slashing a State's tax and export earnings.

“International support for social protection measures becomes even more relevant in the context of the global economic crisis and its severe impact on the LDCs. International solidarity is needed,” they urged, stating: “When the global financial crisis struck, Governments stepped in to prop up banks that were deemed too important to fail. The same logic must now be applied to basic social protection, which is too crucial to be denied.”

They stressed that in doing so, States would be answering the calls of the ILO, UNICEF, the G20 and the World Bank to make social protection global, fulfilling their human rights obligations, transforming the shape of their development aid, harvesting the multiplier effects of supporting incomes in developing countries, and continuing the promise of the Millennium Development Goals beyond their expiration in 2015.

The UN experts proposed that the GFSP be discussed and developed in the Social Protection work-stream of the FAO's Committee on World Food Security (CFS), which convenes next week in Rome, and in the remit of ILO work on the social protection floor.

(*) Read the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (SOFI) report, jointly published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP): http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/161819/icode/







NEW YORK - 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 Special Rapporteur 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.