International women's day

The gender dimension must be taken into account in social security

International women's day

The gender dimension must be taken into account in social security

Interview with Leila Naija, Deputy Director General, National Social Security Fund (Caisse nationale de sécurité sociale – CNSS), Tunisia, in connection with International Women's Day on 8 March 2022.

Leila Naija

How do you see the role of social security in promoting gender equality and empowering women in society?

Social security has an important role to play in promoting gender equality.

Eliminating gender and discriminatory practices in the design of social security systems would be one way to achieve more equal outcomes. The credit given to the main breadwinner, whether male or female, in pension systems to compensate for time spent in unpaid care work is an example. Another example is for the state to make health insurance compulsory and to extend its coverage to all salaried employees as well as to those working in the informal sector, with the ultimate aim of gradually incorporating the latter into the former group.

Strengthening the regulation of the labour market and social benefits would also be essential to create a more equitable competitive environment for women. For example, the elimination of wage discrimination and the recognition of unpaid work can improve women's career success.

Of course, many of these issues are not within the mandate of social security institutions. Nevertheless, social security institutions can play a leading role in building on their operational capacities to improve gender-sensitive service delivery and remove barriers to accessing social security.

Have you seen changes in gender equality since the outbreak of the pandemic and, in your view, what role has social security played to reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic on women?

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women and their economic status for several reasons. Women are more likely than men to work in social sectors, such as services, distribution, tourism and hospitality, which require face-to-face interaction. These sectors are the hardest hit by physical distancing and mitigation.

Women are more likely than men to work in the informal sector, which means lower pay and lack of labour law protection and benefits such as pensions or health insurance.

Women bear the brunt of family responsibilities resulting from measures such as school closures and precautions for vulnerable elderly parents.

The response of social security systems to the COVID-19 health crisis has been of major importance for vulnerable populations.

In Tunisia, for example, the unique identifier project was only able to materialize during this crisis, helping 725,000 needy and low-income families who were not previously identified. These families were provided with a social assistance programme in the form of a grant.

As a female leader of a major social security organization, what is your message to the global social security community on International Women’s Day?

Everything we do during and after the COVID-19 crisis must be aimed at building more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies. This is perhaps the most obvious lesson to be learnt.

Current social security systems are not broad enough. Many women will not have access to them, as social safety nets are often for those in formal employment. In order to build more equitable societies, access to social security is a very important step because it promotes the financial autonomy of women.

It is therefore imperative that the gender dimension is taken into account in the design of social security systems. Benefits such as health insurance, sickness and maternity leave, pensions and unemployment benefits should not be limited to those in formal employment; they should be accessible to women in all sectors.

Happy Women’s Day to all the women of the world!