Anticipatory Social Protection:
Claiming dignity and rights

Marilyn Waring, Anit N. Mukherjee, Elizabeth Reid and Meena Shivdas

Book Review

Concerns and  subjects  among development practitioners and academics come and go, but social protection is a topic that has remained consistently present. Equally persistent has been the vagueness of its meaning, despite its concrete  – policy relevant – nature. This book  helps  in remedying this  lack of clarity, and  provides a clear conceptual understanding of ‘social protection’. More importantly, it offers an understanding that is comprehensive (through  the inclusion of the issues of rights and care,  and an emphasis on  the life cycle), and that is illustrated by examples from country and regional level.

There are things  that  would enhance  the book further.  One would be the inclusion of a justification for the book’s overall structure,  which remains unclear, and a summary of its  contents  at  its  beginning, not  only  at  its  end. The book would also have benefited from a clearer background to, and explanation of, the Social Protection Floor Initiative, the critique of which is central  to this work.

The  framework that emerges from this critique is built gradually, firstly by highlighting how human rights ‘with women at the centre’ allow for the  inclusion of  ‘dignity, social justice and unpaid care more firmly in the policy making  domain’ (p. 8); secondly,  by  spelling  out  the  three  sets  of rights (economic, political and social) that make   the  framework  transformative; and finally by explaining the ‘anticipatory‘ element.The latter is linked primarily to the recognition  that, from a gender perspective, such policy must anticipate the specific needs that emerge from the various forms of discrimination girls and women experience. Helpful illustrations of this are given  later  in the book, as, for example, when explaining that ensuring good nutrition for  mothers is a more efficient  approach than  supporting other needs of mother and infants, and the already healthy. Another instance is that of contraception and family planning (in the Philippines and Asia more generally) as part  of anticipatory, rather  than merely reactive, public policy. Another key element of this framework is that it proposes that in practice it should involve all three rights holders and duty bearers: the state, the community and the individual.

One of the most useful aspects of the book is the central  role given to unpaid care, and  the case studies provided to illustrate this. Unpaid (and  paid) care, and its almost universal association with women, has long  been  recognised by feminist analysts and activists as both the single most  important cause of gender inequality, and  the area of social and other policy least recognised and addressed. (There has recently  been a revival of debates and explorations of the problem and its appropriate solutions, including the influential 2013 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, which focused on women caregivers and the relationship between poverty and unpaid care.) References in the book to HIV/AIDS as it relates to care and more general social policy occur consistently in the African context, more selectively for Asia, and not at all for other regions.

The summaries of regional developments themselves are informative, but  only some (for instance, that of the Caribbean) offer a really useful summary of what are complex trends in large and diverse geographical areas. However, the treatment  of regional situations is particularly effective when used to illustrate concrete  instances of the proposed anticipatory and  transformative framework adopted in the book.

The issue of children and their rights and needs is present throughout the book, though some fundamental concepts could have been clarified at the beginning, rather than referring to them rather late on, as part  of specific policy analysis. This is the case with the notion of agency, only dealt with explicitly on page 42, as part  of the Swaziland case study.

Chapter 5, ‘The Carer’s Journey’, enriches  the book by giving space to the long term experience of a carer, Elizabeth,  who reflects on her own  experience of caring  and loss. The chapter situates Elizabeth’s experience analytically, in the context  of the evolution of Australian social policies, and then, explains the ways in which the latter could  be enhanced by an anticipatory and  transformative understanding. Equally, if not more useful,  would have been an early and more thorough review  of the various meanings of social policy currently employed, as a guide for those to whom the issues are new.

The criticisms above aside, this book is a valuable addition to the literature on social protection and should help  stimulate further debates in the field.

Review ©2014 Ines Smyth, Senior Gender Adviser, Oxfam GB, UK

Anticipatory Social Protection: Claiming dignity and rights is published by the Commonwealth Secretariat
Review originally published in Gender & Development 22.2 (2014)