Dignity and Autonomy

Personal dignity and autonomy are at the very foundation of human rights, and are inextricably linked to the principles of equality and non-discrimination. As a result, respect for the inherent dignity of all must inform all public policies. State agents, private service providers and individuals must avoid stigmatization and prejudice, and recognize and support the realization of human rights for all; especially vulnerable groups such as those living in poverty, living with HIV/AIDS and migrants. Respecting the dignity of those who receive State social security benefits implies that all actors within the social security system should recognize the efforts that beneficiaries are making to improve their lives. This also implies that minimum essential levels of social protection be set in a manner that allows a life in health and dignity (Social Protection Floors Recommendation No. 202, para 8).

Certain groups of people are of particularly vulnerable because marginalization, exclusion and stigmatization often mean that they are not reached effectively by public policies and services. Obstacles, insecurity and structural factors frequently render it impossible for them to claim their rights and to fulfil their potential independently; they need active support from the State and other relevant stakeholders. In addition, shame from a perceived failure to provide for oneself can cause some recipients of benefits to refrain from participating in social and political life. In this regard, States should ensure that social protection policies are ‘shame-proofed’ – in other words, explicitly designed to respond to the special needs of disadvantaged persons in a manner that promotes dignity and minimizes stigmatization of those receiving social security benefits by, for example, embedding anti-stigma measures (Recommendation No. 202, paras 3(c) and (d)).

Conditionalities and human rights standards

From a human rights perspective, the imposition of conditionalities in social protection programmes needs to be approached with caution because they have the potential to impede the enjoyment of human rights by certain rights holders. Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) are increasingly being implemented in many countries on the assumption that they strengthen human capital, and in the long term contribute to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty. A rights-based perspective calls for critical scrutiny, however.

The imposition of conditionalities, also called “co-responsibilities”, requires people to fulfil certain commitments such as sending children to school or getting regular health checks in order to receive all or some of their social protection benefits. Although these commitments can contribute to strengthen rights to education or health, they may suggest that people living in poverty cannot make rational choices to improve their lives, which could have the undesired consequence of reinforcing prevalent stereotypes about the poor—that they are careless and irresponsible. In this sense, conditionalities run the risk of violating the right to dignity of the poor.

Under international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), States parties are obliged to immediately meet minimum essential levels to the rights of food, health, housing, education and social security. These are inherent human rights and not conditional on the performance of certain actions or meeting requirements.

Conditionalities, although designed to improve life quality and access to social protection, may increase the demand for public services in parts of the world where the services available are not adequate in quality or quantity. For example, people— women and girls in particular— may be prevented from complying with conditionalities imposed by a social protection programme if health clinics are far away from their homes, the quality of service is too low, or they face communication difficulties or encounter officials with a discriminatory approach. They may also have the unintended consequence of placing a strain on service providers in areas without the resources to serve the increased number of clients. Social protection programmes, therefore, must ensure that adequate services necessary for compliance with the programme requirements are provided. Public services providers must be trained in culturally appropriate practices and the specific needs of women, in particular those suffering from multiple forms of discrimination (such as indigenous women or women with disabilities).

When conditionalities are imposed, additional costs will be incurred for administration and monitoring. To meet these costs, resources may be used which otherwise could have served to improve social services. Also, rights holders often incur significant opportunity costs in order to meet the conditionalities imposed on them.

The gender impact of CCTs is a concern from a rights-based perspective. Many CCT programmes channel the money through women, who are then assigned the responsibility of carrying out the conditionalities. This increases the demand on their time, especially in the absence of support services such as childcare, and constrains their ability to engage in remunerative work or leisure. When gender dimensions are not appropriately addressed, they may also reinforce gendered divisions of labour.

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Expert Commentaries

Dignity and Social Inclusion: Civil society’s role in social protection for homeless

“When you’re homeless, you feel like people really don’t care and no one really knows where you are. But Back on My Feet found us.” Valerie, Back on My Feet Member, Philadelphia   Civil society organizations play an important role in providing opportunities for the most vulnerable members of society, such as the homeless, to […]

Are Cash Transfers a Means to Promote “Meaningful” Independent Living for Persons with Disabilities?

Despite progress made around disability and social policy in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), there are still concerns that cash transfers in developing contexts may reinforce perceptions that persons with disabilities are dependent and incapable of work, rather than being a mechanism for meeting their needs and facilitating their empowerment.   Independent living as part […]

Aging, Social Protection and Human Rights: Preventing financial abuse of older people

Over the past 30 years, the number of older people in low and middle income countries (LMICs) receiving a pension has grown rapidly. New national schemes have been established or extended and numerous pilot programmes set up, often with international support. The value of these pensions is not always substantial (although in countries such as […]

Achieving Development at the Cost of The Right to Privacy? The Promise and Peril of New Technologies in Social Protection Programmes.

  Information and communication technologies and social protection In recent years, donors, development agencies and poverty reduction initiatives have increasingly turned towards social protection as an effective tool for addressing extreme poverty and accelerating development in the world’s poorest countries. The term refers to the provision of benefits in cash or in kind to secure […]

Conditionality and Human Rights

Across the world, states have made binding commitments under international human rights law to do what they can to ensure all their population attains its basic material needs. And yet, governments in numerous countries have been introducing so-called conditional cash transfer schemes (CCTs) based on the imposition of forms of behavioural conditionality. This means they […]

Legal Instruments

National Policy on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work

This policy, based on principles of human rights, aims to guide the national response to HIV/AIDS in reducing and managing the impact of the epidemic in the world of work. Specifically the policy aims to: Prevent transmission of HIV infection amongst workers and their families; Protect rights of those who are infected and provide access […]

Ley Orgánica de Discapacidades

Establece la protección y reconocimiento de los cuidadores y cuidadoras de personas con alguna discapacidad (art. 5; 16). Los cuidadores pueden gozar de beneficios de inclusión laboral como “sustitutos” de la persona discapacitada (art. 48). Se amplía el permiso de maternidad por 3 meses adicionales, en el caso del nacimiento de niñas o niños con […]

Labour Standards Act

An Act to provide for the fixing of wages of workers, the hours of work, their leave and generally for matters pertaining to the welfare of workers.  

Labour Contract Act

An Act to make provisions whereby every employer is required to provide each employee within the application of this Act with a written contract specifying certain particulars of his employment; to provide the contents of a basic labour contract, and for the purposes connected therewith.  

Ley 8.726

Reforma del capítulo octavo del título segundo del Código del Trabajo, Ley 2. Ley del trabajo doméstico remunerado. Define a las trabajadoras domésticas como aquellas que brindan asistencia y bienestar a una familia o persona, en forma remunerada, y que se dedican a las labores de limpieza, cocina, lavado, planchado y demás labores propias de […]

Ley 20.422 establece normas sobre igualdad de oportunidades e inclusión social de personas con discapacidad.

Garantiza la igualdad de oportunidades de las personas con discapacidad (Título I, pár.1).Promueve la autonomía personal y la atención a las personas en situación de dependencia a través de prestaciones o servicios de apoyo. La atención de las personas con discapacidad en situación de dependencia, deberá facilitar una existencia autónoma en su medio habitual y […]

Ley 11.304

Permite al contribuyente que paga impuesto sobre la renta y emplear a una trabajadora doméstica, deducir de su declaración de impuesto a las ganancias conseguidas mensual del 12% a la Seguridad Social, en relación con la contribución del empleador. Regula los días de descanso y licencia por maternidad de las trabajadoras domésticas.

Legal Cases

Protecting the Rights of People Living with HIV in Malawi

Summary:  The appellant, E.L., a 26 year old mother of four living with HIV, was charged and convicted in the lower court under Section 192 of the Malawian Penal Code (Code) for unlawfully (negligently) engaging in an act likely to spread a disease dangerous to life. The prosecution argued that the appellant “unlawfully, negligently and […]

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in India

 Summary:  In January 2012, up to 53 women underwent a sterilization procedure in Bihar, India, at a sterilization camp managed by an NGO which had been granted accreditation by the District Health Society, apparently without following any formal, transparent process. The women had not been given any counseling regarding the potential dangers and outcomes of […]

Persons with Disabilities’ Right to Self-Determination in Bulgaria

Nature of the Case A Bulgarian individual challenged his indefinite and involuntary placement under partial guardianship and in a remote psychiatric institute, in degrading conditions. Summary Rusi Kosev Stanev was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1975 and declared unfit to work in 1990. In 2000, following a request from his stepmother and half-sister, a court declared […]

Dignity and Autonomy in Enforcing Public Health in Kenya

Nature of the Case Two men successfully challenged their imprisonment, purportedly pursuant to the Public Health Act, for failure to take prescribed tuberculosis (TB) medication. Summary In 2010, Daniel Ng’etich and Patrick Kipng’etich Kirui were arrested by the Public Health Officer, Nandi Central District Tuberculosis Defaulter Tracing Coordinator, who applied to a Magistrate for their […]

Right to Adequate Housing in Peru

Nature of the Case Constitutional remedy filed against a lower court decision of March 21, 2013 (resolución de fojas 394, Sala Especializada Civil de la Corte Superior de Justicia de Cajamarca), which dismissed a complaint by a citizen of Cajamarca against the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and Minera Yanacocha S.R.L., requesting the protection of […]

Women’s sexual and reproductive rights in the Philippines

Summary In 1991, the Philippines delegated responsibility for “people’s health and safety” to the local level. In exercise of this power, an executive order 003 (“EO 003”) was issued in Manila, in 2000 which declared that the city would take an “affirmative stand on pro-life issues”. In response to a joint submission from NGOs in […]


Project “Towards Inclusive Social Protection Systems To Advance The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities” (2019-20)

Building on the process facilitated by ILO and International Disability Alliance (IDA) that led to the adoption of a joint statement on inclusive social protectionm and the current momentum on universal social protection, the UNPRPD funded project, implemented jointly by ILO and UNICEF in close cooperation with IDA seeks the collaborative development of capacity across […]

Joint statement: Towards inclusive social protection systems supporting the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities

This joint statement reflects our shared commitment to inclusive social protection systems for persons with disabilities. The statement emerged from meetings and discussions between international partners working on the issues of disability and social protection. These meetings also contributed to the first report of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons […]

Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development: General Survey concerning the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

The ILO’s General Survey 2019 , compiled by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The Survey (published under the title Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development) focuses on the ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), which calls for basic income security and essential healthcare […]

Pension Primer: A toolbox to achieve equitable and sustainable pension systems

Pensions are the most widespread form of social protection in the world. SDG 1.3 monitors progress towards universal coverage. The main objective of pension systems is to prevent poverty and provide income security to older women and men. Reforms must balance pension adequacy and financial sustainability. This pension primer provides key learning materials on pension […]

Material Hardship among Nonelderly Adults and Their Families in 2017: Implications for the Safety Net

Federal and state policymakers are weighing changes to federal programs that help low-income people meet their basic needs for food, medical care, and shelter. As policymakers consider these changes to the public safety net, they run the risk of increasing material hardship, which could have detrimental short- and long-term impacts on children and adults. How […]

The household and individual-level economic impacts of cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa

Results from seven recently completed rigorous impact evaluations of government-run unconditional social cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa show that these programmes have significant positive impacts on the livelihoods of beneficiary households. In Zambia, the Child Grant programme had large and positive impacts across an array of income generating activities. The impact of the programmes […]

Myth-busting? Confronting Six Common Perceptions about Unconditional Cash Transfers as a Poverty Reduction Strategy in Africa

In this paper we summarize evidence on six perceptions associated with cash transfer programming, using eight rigorous evaluations conducted on large-scale government unconditional cash transfers in sub-Saharan Africa, under the Transfer Project. Specifically, we investigate if transfers: 1) induce higher spending on alcohol or tobacco; 2) are fully consumed (rather than invested); 3) create dependency […]

Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change

This overview summarises the final findings of the Welfare Conditionality project (2013-2018). It presents analysis on the effectiveness, impacts and ethics of welfare conditionality, and the sanctions and mandatory support that underpin this approach. Discussion draws on analyses of qualitative data generated in interviews with 52 policy stakeholders, 27 focus groups conducted with practitioners, and […]

Eliminating and Preventing Forced Labour: Checkpoints app

This mobile app allows business managers and auditors to create interactive checklists that will help them ensure a forced labour-free operation. There are 38 checkpoints in total – each one provides best-practice recommendations for taking action. A PDF version is also available.

Child Vulnerability and Social Protection in Kenya

The definition of child vulnerability used in Kenya’s social protection sector was shaped in the early 2000s, when policymakers noted an increasing number of orphans as a consequence of the AIDS pandemic and developed the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC). Kenya’s Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC) was […]

Social Protection and Human Rights