Both in long-term development and short term emergencies, cash transfers (CTs) are all the rage, especially those handed over directly to women, who are widely thought to use the money more responsibly (spending it on food, rather than booze and fags etc). But what’s the impact on household dynamics when a sudden influx of cash lands in the hands of its female members? A new-ish (May) paper by Oxfam and Concern explores this issue combining a literature review and country case studies of the use of CTs in Indonesia (rapid onset, earthquake), Kenya (rapid onset, food price spikes) and Zimbabwe (protracted crisis). In all three, women were the primary beneficiaries of the cash. Some highlights and quotes:
‘Overall, there were many positive benefits for women. This included increased self esteem and confidence to handle money and an acceptance by men that women are capable of handling money.’
Quote: ‘Some men are now consulting their women on how to spend income from other sources (female beneficiary, Zimbabwe)
On the whole, intra-household relations improved as a result of the CTs targeting women and there were indications that some of these improvements may last beyond the length of the programme.
Quote (although doesn’t agree with previous line): ‘It added to love [in the household] because we could get what we wanted and talk together. It only lasted during the CT. When we start to starve again love sort of disappears. It is better now as we are harvesting’ (male respondent, Zimbabwe)
‘However, there were also clear challenges. Community relations did not necessarily improve, and in some cases worsened, as a result of the programmes. Jealousy and community division were noted in all three cases.’
‘Where cash was given in response to a food crisis, it is clear that while food aid was shared, cash was not. This was a major concern among recipients. Community sharing is critically important to women who tend to have a range of lending and borrowing strategies, with neighbours, family, shops and so forth, that enable them to cope when things get tough. Harming these coping strategies is potentially counter-productive for women who may find themselves increasingly vulnerable and less resilient to food insecurity in the long term.
The CTs also tended to reinforce rather than challenge women’s traditional household and social roles. CTs were perceived as helping women to simply perform their roles ‘better’, that is, women are expected to carry the burden of food provision and to manage CT payments responsibly, often in the face of multiple pressures and claims.
Likewise male roles were imbued with negative stereotypes, which will have damaging effects on the potential for long-term changes in gender relations.’
Quote: ‘We were told by…staff that men are a bit irresponsible and have many things they spend money on that do not benefit the household.’ A male CT beneficiary, Zimbabwe
The paper finds some serious weaknesses in the way CT programmes are designed with thinking through the impact on gender dynamics:
‘Complex social dynamics, such as polygamy, were not accounted for and the distribution of food within households remained highly gendered and hierarchical. Only in Indonesia was a gender analysis undertaken prior to implementation, and nowhere were concepts such as gender inequality or women’s empowerment defined or analysed. Women were not involved in pre-project discussions or in monitoring the work and the indicators of success largely focused on quantifiable data. There were key issues for women in terms of implementation, delivery mechanisms and communication that were not explored.’