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Youth, Gender and Social Protection primers

Youth, Gender and Social Protection primers

Rebuilding systems for the 21st Century


These papers are excerpts from ActionAid’s preliminary report, Youth, Gender and Social Protection: Rebuilding Systems for the 21st Century. It is written with a focus on young women and men, whose futures are and continue to be compromised by economic policies implemented over the past three decades, culminating in the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008.

Please also see the summary paper that accompanies these primers.

Social protection is intended to enable young people to expand their choices and enjoy their right to self-determination. The existing frameworks for social protection need to be radically changed if they are to meet the needs of young people - an increasingly heterogeneous group. The development of international guidelines and recommendations in the context of the ILO and the SDGs provide guidelines for national social protection floors, and provide a basis for designing programmes tailored for young people.

Achieving universal social protection floors is a basic minimum to ensure social justice. But even that requires action on multiple fronts, not only economic policy, but also  the elimination of social discrimination and exclusion against disadvantaged groups, such as racial and indigenous minorities, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees, LGBTQIA+ and non-binary people. Understanding social protection as a transformative economic and political project to realise the right to self-determination is key to its success. It cannot be emphasised enough that social protection and social security are rights, not charity or handouts. They are universal, indivisible, interrelated and inalienable according to international law.

The argument that there is no money for universal social protection is no longer tenable. Funding for public services has been constrained by unjust tax systems and tax evasion, illicit financial flows, unfair debt burdens, a corrupt global financial architecture, poor macroeconomic management, reckless deregulation of global finance capital and monopolistic practices –in other words a global economic order that is rigged against the poor and stacked up in favour of the rich. 

The leaps forward in social progress in the 20th century carry important lessons. Social protection has to be part of an agenda for social, economic, gender and ecological justice which seeks to change the destructive neoliberal status quo, rather than simply to make the status quo more tolerable for the poor.