Professor Sandra Fredman: “From a hand out to a hand up and beyond: Engendering social welfare rights”

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Professor Sandra Fredman
Oxford University

On Friday, 1 March 2013, Professor Sandra Fredman, Rhodes Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States of America at Oxford University, presented a seminar to the members of SERAJ entitled “From a hand out to a hand up and beyond: Engendering social welfare rights”.

The seminar presented an evaluative framework in which welfare rights could be viewed from a gendered perspective. Traditionally, welfare rights reinforce gender patterns by framing women as adjunct to men and as dependents of male breadwinners. Even the widely accepted practice of means-testing espouses and underscores a model whereby it is traditionally men who generate income. Within this traditional paradigm, women are regarded as the most reliable conduits for using and channelling welfare benefits. However, this approach can reinforce persistent gender stereotypes as well as the feminisation of socio-economic burdens.

Prof Fredman developed a four dimensional model that could serve as a framework from within which to evaluate social welfare rights on the basis of substantive gendered equality. First, the redistributive dimension recognises that addressing poverty does not amount to addressing gender disadvantage. There is a need to move beyond income poverty in order to acknowledge that uneven power distribution within families can result in “hidden poverty”. Moreover, discrimination that exists within property law, the law of succession and customary law – coupled with discrimination that hampers women’s education – should all be acknowledged as hampering redistributive measures aimed at redressing gender disadvantage. Second, the recognition dimension acknowledges that stigma attaches to both poverty and welfare. Intrusive mechanisms such as means-testing can serve to exacerbate the stigma attached to receiving welfare benefits while simultaneously strengthening male and female stereotypes. A shift from a perception of welfare as charity to welfare as a right is required. Third, the transformational dimension advocates an approach whereby gendered structures and stereotypes are addressed rather than merely reflected. Finally, the participative dimension of the proposed model promotes the perception of women as agents rather than as passive recipients of benefits while acknowledging the impact that intersectionality of disadvantage can exercise on the complex myriad of issues at stake.

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Special guests at the seminar included (from left to right):
Professor Ulrike Davy (Bielefeld University, Germany) who is currently a Visiting Fellow at STIAS, Professor Sandra Fredman (Oxford University, England), and Professor Brian Ray (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio) who is currently a visiting researcher at SERAJ.

This four dimensional model was subsequently applied to the case of conditional cash transfers, whereby the receipt of a cash grant is linked to the fulfilment of conditions by women, for example conditions connected with child-rearing. The danger that the vocabulary of incentives coupled with punitive measures can pose to, for example, the perpetuation of stereotypes and stigma was highlighted. Subsequently, a vibrant discussion of the issues raised took place.


Recommended reading:

During the course of the seminar, Professor Fredman referred to two relevant reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations. The first “Participation of persons living in poverty” (2013) concerns a report by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, on the human rights approach to participation of persons living in poverty in decisions that affect their lives. The second “The penalization of poverty” (2011) is also a report by the Special Rapporteur.


Professor Sandra Fredman is Rhodes Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States of America at Oxford University. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2005. She is Honorary Professor of Law at the University of Cape Town and a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. She has written and published widely on anti-discrimination law, human rights law and labour law, including numerous peer-reviewed articles and three monographs: Human rights transformed (Oxford University Press, 2008); Discrimination law (2nd ed Oxford University Press, 2011); and Women and the law (Oxford University Press, 1997). Professor Fredman has also co-authored two books: The State as employer (Mansell, 1988) with Gillian Morris, and Labour law and Industrial relations in Great Britain (2nd ed Kluwer, 1992) with Bob Hepple. She has also edited several books: Discrimination and human rights: The case of racism (Oxford University Press, 2001) and Age as an equality issue (Hart, 2003) with Sarah Spencer; and has written numerous articles in peer-reviewed law journals. She was awarded a three year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship in 2004 to further her research into socio-economic rights and substantive equality. She is South African and holds degrees from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford. Professor Fredman has also acted as an expert adviser on equality law and labour legislation in the EU, Northern Ireland, the UK, India, South Africa, Canada and the UN, and is a barrister practising at Old Square Chambers.

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