Linking Social Rights to Active Citizenship for the Most Vulnerable: the Role of Rights and Accountability in the ‘Making’ and ‘Shaping’ of Social Protection

  • Rachel Sabates-WheelerEmail author
  • Nikhil Wilmink
  • Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai
  • Richard de Groot
  • Tayllor Spadafora
Original Article


Social protection has the potential to provide a key interface between states and citizens. We consider how the institutional framing and design of social protection can be adapted from top-down forms of provision to forms that stimulate vulnerable citizens to make rights-based claims and demand accountability for their entitlements. A conceptual framework is developed that illustrates three channels through which citizenship can be engaged through social accountability mechanisms and in the context of social protection provision. Drawing on case studies, we highlight the different contexts in which the design and delivery of social protection can open up spaces for different forms of citizenship engagement and expression. Through opening up institutional spaces where citizens can engage with the state, and each other, we conclude that social protection is uniquely placed to build the economic, social and political capabilities of citizens.


Social protection Rights Citizenship Poverty Accountability 


La protection sociale a le potentiel de constituer une interface essentielle entre les États et les citoyens. Nous examinons comment la façon dont la protection sociale est présentée et conçue au niveau institutionnel peut passer d’une approche descendante à une approche qui pousse les citoyens vulnérables à faire des demandes fondées sur leurs droits et à demander des comptes pour la protection de leurs acquis. Un cadre conceptuel est développé; il illustre trois canaux par lesquels la citoyenneté peut être engagée, par le biais de mécanismes de redevabilité sociale et dans le contexte de la fourniture d’une protection sociale. En nous appuyant sur des études de cas, nous mettons en évidence les différents contextes dans lesquels la conception et la mise en œuvre de la protection sociale peuvent ouvrir des espaces pour différentes formes d’engagement citoyen et d’expression de la citoyenneté. En ouvrant des espaces institutionnels où les citoyens peuvent interagir avec l’État, nous concluons que la protection sociale est particulièrement bien placée pour renforcer les capacités économiques, sociales et politiques des citoyens.



Funding for this study was provided by USAID to UNICEF Ghana. The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of UNICEF.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there are no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Development Studies, University of SussexFalmerUK
  2. 2.Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI)LusakaZambia
  3. 3.Department of Public AdministrationUniversity of Ghana Business SchoolAccraGhana
  4. 4.UNICEF Office of Research, InnocentiFlorenceItaly
  5. 5.DenverUSA

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