Women’s economic empowerment and cash transfer programming

Rose Smith Aid, Gender, Her Series, Women's Economic Empowerment

Cash Transfer Programmes (CTP) are increasingly becoming more popular in relief response, but how can they help women’s economic empowerment? Rose Smith from The Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) gives us her input.

Both women’s rights and Cash Transfer Programming (CTP) have been subject to increased debate and interest over recent years. Women’s rights and gender equality have progressed to become central to international development agendas, demonstrated by women and/or gender being mentioned specifically, not just in SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment) but in a number of other Sustainable Development Goals and in the convening of the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment

At the same time, the position of CTP as a modality of response has risen dramatically on the international agenda. Studies have continually shown CTP is a success in terms of dignity and choice for the beneficiary, and that it can be more efficient than in-kind response. At the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 some of the major agencies and donors pledged to increase CTP to at least 25% of all humanitarian aid by 2020, and in the build up to the WHS itself Ban Ki-moon affirmed “Where markets and operational contexts permit, cash-based programming should be the preferred and default method of support”.

The intersection of these two key areas is, therefore, surely a space of great opportunity and potential; in this intersection we find both a key goal to reach and a modality with which to achieve it.

As with all well-coordinated programming, the very nature of CTPs is about keeping the beneficiary at the heart, but what is special about CTP is that beneficiaries themselves prefer it, as it gives them the dignity of choice. Beneficiaries have stated that not only does cash help them invest in income generating activities and address immediate needs, but that cash also brings happiness and ends humiliation, as shown in a 2015 Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) report.

CTP has already been proven to play a key role in women’s economic empowerment. A recent ODI review of the impact of CTP shows that not only can CTPs have a positive impact on education, health and livelihoods/employment and reduce negative coping strategies, but that these impacts are markedly skewed towards women; for example, in education the “statistically significant effects [of CTP] being increases in school attendance for girls and some improvements in test scores and cognitive development”. Financial management training, as part of a CTP, can also empower women as decision makers, by giving them the knowledge and tools to maximise the resources available to them, as IRC found in a CTP Lebanon.

These effects are already contributing to the decision-making agency of women and girls, and are then also complemented by the marked impact on other vital markers of empowerment, namely gender-based violence, marriage and fertility. CTPs can reduce the physical abuse of women (by men) and for women the evidence that“receiving a transfer reduces the likelihood of having multiple sexual partners indicates that cash transfers may reduce the incidence of relationships that are transactional.”

The multiplier effects of CTP even extend to helping to break down legal barriers to women’s economic empowerment, by providing them with bank accounts and a form of identification, such as in a 2006/7 Malawi based project.
Well-coordinated, well-planned CTP can and does empower women

The combination of all of this evidence surely exemplifies how well-coordinated CTPs can empower women in particular, giving them autonomy and dignity. At an ODI event in May Justine Greening discussed looking for the ‘turbo charge’ for empowerment. I believe that CTP at scale is that turbo, to give women a boost to raise their sights and use cash as they see fit, whether to pay off debts, invest in micro businesses, purchase goods or keep their daughters in school. This cross-cutting, multi-sector, multi-purpose modality is the key to cracking SDG 5 and beyond.

At the High Level Panel meeting in Costa Rica, Luiza Carvalho, UN Women Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, stated that government CTPs in the region helped advance a “remarkable progress for…women in the labour market” and that CTPs “impacted positively on women’s lives, giving them more economic autonomy and generating better care conditions for their dependents”. I hope the Panel was listening to her. Well-coordinated, well-planned CTP can and does empower women.

The Panel can and should add their weight to the WHS commitments and Grand Bargain, to recommend implementing CTP at scale as the key modality for achieving women’s economic empowerment.

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Simone Lombardini