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Protecting the Weak: Instruments of Public Policy

Rekha Pappu

By Naila Kabeer
Routledge, New Delhi, 2010, pp. xi + 385, Rs. 795.00


The study of the informal economy has in recent years become a matter of compelling importance. The many changes at the global level in terms of the liberalization processes, deregularization of labour markets and the use of new technologies that impact labour conditions have necessitated closer attention to the informal economy and to the risks and vulnerabilities faced by those dependent on it for their survival. Naila Kabeer’s book Gender and Social Protection Strategies in the Informal Economy makes a significant contribution to the growing body of literature on this subject. Kabeer’s concern with social protection relates mainly to the manner in which public policy shapes instruments and measures to deal with risks and vulnerabilities faced by the poor, especially women. The book is mainly a compilation of the working of social protection measures in different parts of the world along with the assessment of these programmes. Its objective is to inform the design of future policies by drawing on the lessons learnt from the earlier experiences. In her consideration of the diverse social protection instruments introduced by different governments the world over, Kabeer emphasizes the need to integrate measures to reduce poverty with social protection strategies.Gender and Social Protection Strategies in the Informal Economy does not draw overt attention to its structure but seems to make its point through three interconnected parts: the first part comprises the first three chapters, which provide details of the global context that explain the need for a focus on social protection measures for the poor, these chapters also delineate the analytical framework for ensuring a serious engagement with gendered issues within the informal economy; the second part, which includes fives chapters, describes and assesses schemes and programmes devised by public policy (as well as protest activities) to provide social protection to vulnerable sections of the global population, especially within the developing countries; the third part of the book, containing the concluding chapter, draws on the earlier sections to recommend a ‘generative model’ of social protection. The first part of Kabeer’s work begins by probing how the informal economy emerged as a locus of concern the world over in recent times. It examines the positions of two key institutions, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Bank, and tracks the shifts made by them from their earlier espousal of ‘safety nets’ and ‘social security’ to their more recent emphasis ...

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