What I learned at CaLP’s Cash and Gender Event

Steph Roberson Cash transfers, Gender

Steph Roberson reflects back on CaLP’s recent cash week in London, and particularly on their gender and cash event. 

I recently attended CaLP’s Gender and Cash event in London. And it turns out there is quite a lot we don’t know about gender and cash transfer programming.

CaLP have collected a range of technical papers on gender and cash, and I think the introduction to the paper by UN Women sums up the key points most succinctly.

It states that in a nutshell, there is a lot of evidence out there from development contexts and social protection programmes showing that “Well-designed cash transfer programmes directed to women can positively impact women and girls across a range of protection and empowerment dimensions”. 

However, there is still a huge gap in the evidence from humanitarian settings and, in emergency responses, we really need to work harder to understand how being recipients of cash affects men, women and their households differently.

For me, this gets to the crux of the debate. We know that cash can be gender transformative in development and social protection settings, but our knowledge and evidence base for gendered outcomes in humanitarian cash programmes simply isn’t robust enough yet.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) presented some interesting observations from their ongoing research on this in Raqqa, Syria, in particular the challenges of negotiating the research content in this context. Their research team responded to these challenges by adapting some of the more perceived sensitive questions, rather than jeopardise the ongoing emergency relief operations there, but it revealed just some of the many complexities of developing a stronger evidence base on sensitive issues such as gender in humanitarian contexts.

This highlighted the fact that we may never have such a robust evidence base in the humanitarian sphere as we have in development, so we must think about what we can learn from these experiences that can help inform future research on GBV in humanitarian settings and that will help inform good practice for conducting robust research in these difficult contexts.

targeting women as the recipients for cash-based assistance is not in itself going to achieve desired outcomes of women’s empowerment

A second takeaway for me is that there is a difference between ensuring that you don’t cause inadvertent harm by using cash or in the way in which a cash programme is implemented (what in Oxfam we call ‘Safe Programming’), and the increasing use of cash as a modality by protection actors to achieve a specific protection outcome. In all cash programming we have a responsibility to identify and monitor potential risks – including being conflict sensitive and managing risks such as GBV – and take proactive measures to mitigate them. In the last few years Oxfam’s Protection teams have started to integrate the use of CTP into protection programmes, combining the use of cash and/or vouchers with a range of other activities including supporting community protection structures and advocacy and influencing, to achieve a specific protection outcome.

Representatives from GSMA (a trade association for mobile phone service providers) presented some fascinating research on the barriers to women accessing mobile technology, which was a great reminder that we should select our delivery mechanisms with the end users in mind, rather than being led by cost efficiency or a desire to use the latest technology. Women often have limited access to shared mobile phones in the home, and may have to bargain or negotiate time on the phone, so we need to be more considerate of that in our programme design.

And my final takeaway was simply that targeting women as the recipients for cash-based assistance is not in itself going to achieve desired outcomes of women’s empowerment, reduced GBV or other positive gender norms change. Interventions should be designed and implemented based on evidence, rather than assumptions. This may sound obvious, but all too often it is an assumption that gets misunderstood. Targeting women in cash programmes is sometimes used as a quick win instead of investing in thorough, in-depth gender analysis. In my opinion, the only acceptable response to the question “Why did you target women for your cash programme?” is “Because we did a thorough gender analysis which indicated this would be beneficial to both men and women in this context/community”.

There are a range of new toolkits and guidance on Gender and Cash coming soon from some of CaLP’s member agencies, watch CaLP’s thematic webpage for more on this topic. It was also great to see so many agencies calling for more systematic use of Oxfam’s Rapid Care Analysis Tool in cash and voucher programming, and for better integration of gender in market analysis, such as using Oxfam’s GEM toolkit.


Shannon Philip