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Profiles

Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed

Gender and development manager (Research)

Zahrah has extensive experience in women's rights and gender equality across organisations and within large-scale development projects. Her expertise has been developed through a range of research pieces, teaching, training, consultancy assignments, management and technical advisory roles. A human geographer with qualitative and participatory research skills, her experience cuts across a diverse scope of thematic areas: women’s economic empowerment, the care economy (paid and unpaid), urban development and infrastructure, social protection, food security and nutrition, as well as sexual and gender-based violence, engaging with men and boys and youth empowerment. She joined Innocenti in 2019 to work on the gender-responsive age-sensitive social protection (GRASSP) research programme. Prior to this, she was a Senior Technical Advisor on Women's Rights at ActionAid UK and an Africa Fellow in the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank Group. She previously worked at Social Development Direct as a Technical Specialist on Women's Economic Empowerment and earlier as a Research Fellow in the Cities Cluster at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. Zahrah holds a PhD in Human Geography and Urban Studies and an MSc in Urbanisation and Development - both from the London School of Economics, and a BSc in Human and Physical Geography from the University of Reading.

Publications

Mainstreaming gender into social protection strategies and programmes: Evidence from 74 low- and middle-income countries
Publication

Mainstreaming gender into social protection strategies and programmes: Evidence from 74 low- and middle-income countries

The importance of mainstreaming gender into social protection policies and programmes is increasingly recognized. However, evidence on the extent to which this is actually happening remains limited. This report contributes to filling this evidence gap by drawing on the findings of two complementary research projects undertaken by UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti and UN Women in 2019. Using a specifically developed analytical framework, these two projects reviewed 50 national social protection strategies and 40 social protection programmes across a total of 74 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to assess the extent to which they incorporate gender equality concerns.

Articles

Gender, paid domestic work and social protection. Exploring opportunities and challenges to extending social protection coverage among paid domestic workers in Nigeria
Article

Gender, paid domestic work and social protection. Exploring opportunities and challenges to extending social protection coverage among paid domestic workers in Nigeria

Blogs

Researchers reflect on what inspired them to work on gender
Blog

Researchers reflect on what inspired them to work on gender

To mark International Women's Day 2021 we asked three Innocenti researchers to share what inspired them to work on gender issues.  Alessandra Guedes (centre), Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF InnocentiAlessandra Guedes has dedicated 20 years of her professional life to promoting children’s and women’s rights and health, including working intensively to end violence against children and against women.I actually didn’t intentionally set out to work on gender and came to the issue in a roundabout way. I often joke that while I started out by studying what, in my opinion, is arguably humanity at its best (I have a degree in studio art!), I ended up working with humanity at its worse: violence against children and against women. How did I get here? Few things are as important to me as social justice and once I started working on the issue of violence prevention over 20 years ago, there was no turning back. globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and protect them: their partnersMy journey started haphazardly when I was offered a position to work with International Planned Parenthood setting up services for women who had experienced violence within reproductive health clinics in Latin America and the Caribbean. It didn’t take long to become obvious that women’s rights and gender-based violence were areas of work that were spearheaded primarily by women. Women have spent centuries (millennia?) protesting all kinds of injustices committed against them simply because they are women. The same impetus to fight for women’s right to vote or to drive is what keeps us working to change the fact that, globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and care for them: their partners. While this is the most common form of violence against women and girls, plenty more females experience other forms of gender-based violence, including femicide. While I started working specifically on violence against women and girls, I’ve come to understand that these forms of violence are intimately connected with violence against children and that many drivers are shared across these manifestations of violence.  Equipped with this knowledge, I’m supporting UNICEF to address the gender dimensions of violence against children, including looking for ways to end violence in the home. I am both inspired and grateful to all of the women on whose shoulders I stand. Many have been imprisoned, some have been killed, fighting for equality across gender, race and ethnicity. I hope that my work will add a grain of sand to their heroic efforts. See an example of Alessandra’s research on violence against women and violence against children.   Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF InnocentiZahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed has extensive experience in women's rights and gender equality across organisations and within large-scale development projects.Today, I can say I am a researcher – a qualitative researcher – exploring gender, care work (paid and unpaid) and social protection. But my inspiration started small, and with no name. Growing up I had no terms to make sense of the world I lived in, the world people I knew lived in, the world people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in.  But there was curiosity, a lot of it. I would search for answers – mostly through books. When I got older, and a little less shy, I ventured beyond the books and would speak to others to find out a bit more. Still, there was no name. Let me dig a little deeper. After all, what is research if not trying to uncover what is unknown and make sense of it?  My inspiration really started with what I would observe inside and outside homes: what girls would do, what boys would do, what women would do, what men would do. Or more, what could be done, and what couldn’t be done. Still, I had no name. Only what I saw (or maybe also what I didn’t see). Over time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homesOver time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homes; that the activities that boys and girls, women and men are often told they can do feeds into our understanding of care work in homes, paid work outside the home, and also that sometimes these unpaid care activities are commodified, in the form of paid care work. So, what really inspired me to do research on gender - home: the home I lived in, the homes people I knew lived in, the homes people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in; and over time the people who left their homes, who worked in homes, and those who lost homes. See an example of Zahrah’s research on gender and unpaid care work.   Elena Camilletti, Research Officer in Gender and Adolescence, UNICEF InnocentiElena Camilletti conducts research on the political economy of gender in social protection, unpaid care and domestic work, and gender norms, in low- and middle-income countries.My commitment to gender equality, and my interest in making that my career, has come gradually over time, but it goes back to my adolescence years. During that time, as it’s often the case for all adolescents, I started to become more aware of the world around me, the inequalities and injustices that I was seeing, in my family, in my community, in my country, and beyond, as I was growing up. When it was time to choose my University degree, and later on when applying for jobs, I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I could make a small, humble, contribution to the fight against those inequalities, those injustices. Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders.Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders. And research on gender inequalities is the first step to being able to make a difference: understanding their prevalence, for example the amount of time that women and girls spend on unpaid care and domestic work; investigating their root causes, for example unpacking the social and gender norms that drive gender inequalities; and identifying interventions that work to change those, sustainably. But ultimately what brought me to a career on gender equality and children’s rights, is the potential to use the evidence generated to raise awareness on these gender inequalities, and inform action, for current and future generations to benefit from. Something that I’m proud we at UNICEF Innocenti are committed to doing! See Elena’s research on adolescence and gender. 
Caring in the time of COVID-19: Gender, unpaid care work and social protection
Blog

Caring in the time of COVID-19: Gender, unpaid care work and social protection

Care work, which is predominantly provided by women and girls, is a central yet typically undervalued contributor to economies. It includes supporting daily activities of individuals (such as cooking, cleaning, and providing daily essentials), as well as the health and well-being of others, including children and the elderly. Emerging data indicates that among confirmed cases of COVID-19 men are consistently dying in higher numbers than women. But when it comes to the economic and social fallout of the pandemic, women and girls face much greater risks. The UN recently published a policy brief recognising these risks, including impacts to sexual and reproductive health, and increases in gender-based violence. Women will be the hardest hit by this pandemic, but they will also be the backbone of recovery in communities. Every policy response that recognises this will be the more impactful for it.COVID-19 impact on women and girls’ unpaid care workThe rapid spread of COVID-19 has highlighted the critical role of care work, particularly in times of crisis. Coronavirus containment measures have resulted in the closure of many services—including schools, basic health care, and day care centres—shifting responsibility for their provision on to households. While this could offer an opportunity for gender roles to shift within the home, emerging evidence suggests that care roles continue to be assumed disproportionately by women during this pandemic. Even before the pandemic, globally women and girls carried out on average three times times the amount of unpaid care and domestic work of men and boys. These responsibilities will only increase with new health and hygiene requirements, such as hand-washing and taking care of sick family members. Curfews and self-quarantine measures are likely to make these tasks even more challenging. Nurses wearing masks and gloves to protect against the Coronavirus, in the health center of Gonzagueville, a suburb of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.191 countries have implemented nationwide school closures in an attempt to prevent further contagion, impacting over 91 per cent of world’s student population. On average, women will spend more time providing care and educational support to children. Temporary school closures also risk turning into school drop-out. Worryingly, the economic instability caused by COVID-19 could increase early and forced marriage, particularly for adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries. Care burdens will manifest differently based on women and girls’ ages and stages in life. People over the age of 60 have the highest risk of infection. They are also often sources of childcare support within families, enabling younger women to work and study. The inter-generational impacts of the virus on long-term care arrangements, when children need to be separated from older family members, will need to be better understood. The double caregiving burden of women in paid care workMore than 70 per cent of workers in the health and social sector are women. Women frontline care workers may face a double caregiving burden; additional demands placed on health services may require longer working hours, combined with increased care work at home. Paid care workers are also at higher risk of infection, particularly those in jobs that lack protective gear and protocols to keep them safe. Women disproportionately work in care-related jobs with poor protection and few benefits, including paid sick leave, making them particularly vulnerable. They are also more likely to be unable to take time off work or stay at home to care for themselves or others. Many who provide care in others’ homes do not have employment contracts so may not get paid if they are unable to work or they may be made work without the necessary protection or information. Social protection is key to mitigating gendered risks The anticipated rise in unpaid care work provided by women and girls has numerous consequences for gender equality, including increased risk of infection and psychosocial effects from providing care to an infected relative. What’s more, the heightened exposure to and risk of gender-based violence, combined with reduced access to health services, all point to potentially long-lasting impacts for women and girls’ health.   A mother reads a bedtime story to her 5 year old son in Harare, Zimbabwe where the government has ordered a period of quarantine to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.Over 130 countries (as of 17 April 2020) have used social protection measures to mitigate some of the socio-economic costs of both the pandemic and the containment measures, particularly on vulnerable groups. These measures include social assistance (e.g. family or child grants) and social insurance (e.g. unemployment insurance). Social protection measures to support low-income or vulnerable workers are also being introduced, including paid sick leave and waivers on rent and utilities payments. As their roles as unpaid carers becomes further entrenched, as schools stay closed, and as a global economic crisis looms, there is a real risk that efforts to invest in and promote gender parity and overall gender equality will be undermined or even jeopardised. Immediate attention across every sector is needed to safeguard rights and investments in women and girls. Given the longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on gendered and multi-dimensional poverty, social protection responses that do not address the fundamental drivers of gender inequality, including unpaid care and responsibilities, will entrench already existing gender inequalities. As COVID—19 amplifies these inequalities, now is a critical window of opportunity to build more effective social protection to endure through future pandemics. How social protection can address gender inequalitiesGender-responsive age-sensitive social protection could recognise, reduce, and redistribute women’s care work. For example, providing childcare support to women with more care responsibilities and to frontline workers will balance paid work with unpaid care work. Italy’s “Cura Italia” stimulus package provides a childcare voucher of up to €600 for private-sector workers with children below the age of 12 who decide not to take parental leave.Cash transfers should include a care component by expanding the scope of existing cash transfers or creating new programmes targeted at paid and unpaid care workers. The El Salvador government has pledged $300 for up to 1.5 million households who work in the informal economy without financial safety.Increased and gender-responsive services to reduce care burdens. Providing hygiene kits and information about prevention measures or ensuring adequate access to water and sanitation are two ways of reducing care burdens. In Colombia, water services are provided free of charge for low-income families, while in Burkina Faso several utilities are being subsidised.Changing social norms around care provision is a long-term goal that needs consistent attention. Increasing men’s contribution to unpaid care and domestic work, for example through paid paternity leave and equal parental leave, can contribute to this. Austria’s COVID-19 response allows employees with childcare responsibilities to take up to 3 weeks of care leave on full pay.  Short-term measures alone will be insufficient to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic. Collectively financed and comprehensive social protection is needed. The crucial issue of care work must continue to be made visible to policy makers to ensure that effective and sustainable gender-responsive social protection approaches to the pandemic are adopted. This is especially critical for the most vulnerable groups, such as adolescent girls or migrant women. COVID-19 is an opportunity to bring about long-term changes to gender equality if social protection measures are introduced in a gender-responsive and age-sensitive way. The opportunity this pandemic has presented to improve the lives of those most vulnerable should not be squandered.   Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is Gender & Development Manager at UNICEF Innocenti. Ramya Subrahmanian is Chief of Child Rights & Child Protection at UNICEF Innocenti. Discover our work on gender-responsive and age-sensitive social protection (GRASSP), funded by with UK aid by the UK government.

Journal articles

Caring in the time of COVID-19: Gender, unpaid care work and social protection
Journal Article

COVID-19 and a “crisis of care”: A feminist analysis of public policy responses to paid and unpaid care and domestic work

Caring in the time of COVID-19: Gender, unpaid care work and social protection
Journal Article

Impact of social protection on gender equality in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review of reviews

Caring in the time of COVID-19: Gender, unpaid care work and social protection
Journal Article

Protocol: Impact of social protection on gender equality in low‐ and middle‐income countries: A systematic review of reviews

Events

What does gender-responsive social protection have to do with the climate crisis?
Event

What does gender-responsive social protection have to do with the climate crisis?

With the increased recognition of the important role social protection plays in securing household and gender-equitable security and response to shocks, the webinar will feature a panel of leading experts on gender, climate change and social protection. These experts will convene to investigate what and how current social protection policies and programmes have addressed climate change impacts, and how gender responsive and age sensitive they are or not. It will discuss:
How do national social protection strategies and programmes integrate gender considerations?
Event

How do national social protection strategies and programmes integrate gender considerations?

Elena Camilletti and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed presented "How do national social protection strategies and programmes integrate gender considerations? Evidence from low- and middle income countries" at socialprotection.org's e-conference.
GRASSP: Unleashing the potential of social protection for girls and women
Event

GRASSP: Unleashing the potential of social protection for girls and women

How social protection can better address life course vulnerabilities and break inter-generational cycles of poverty?