What does giving cash transfers only to women do to household dynamics?

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 cash transfers indonesiathe 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.’

cash transfers kenyaOne really interesting, and worrying finding from Zimbabwe was that cash is treated differently from food aid, and in some cases, damages social capital in the community;

‘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.’

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our Privacy Policy.

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.

Comments

5 Responses to “What does giving cash transfers only to women do to household dynamics?”
  1. Caroline Sweetman

    Hi Duncan – great blog, lots of good thoughts. Looking at the dynamics of marriage, women’s friendships with other women, etc in this way is a hugely important part of evaluating any development programme for precisely the reasons you note – it’s critical for poor women to keep marriages together in places where poverty and lack of economic opportunities for women (and the need for social approval and conformity) means there are no real alternatives to standing by your man. Yet so often programmes don’t evaluate these ‘soft’ kinds of impact, focusing more narrowly on measurable aspects. Obviously the key thing is to let women decide for themselves if the impact of being given cash is overall good or not – and the lessons learned by providers. NB – Readers of the blog can delve more deeply and into a wider range of experiences of cash transfers on poverty and gender relations if they go to the Social Protection issue of Gender & Development journal – just out – and available at http://www.genderanddevelopment.org, or as a subscriber journal at http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals

  2. ‘Where cash was given in response to a food crisis, it is clear that while food aid was shared, cash was not.’

    This an interesting finding, given that cash is far more liquid, and thus easily transferrable, than food aid – I can only presume that the benefits of holding onto money come from its role as a store of value, whereas food aid tends to go bad and hence lose its value fairly quickly.

    Given that the idea behind cash transfers is to try to raise the standard of livings (and smooth out economic shocks) across entire communities, we want to try to encourage greater communal responsibility by encouraging lending and borrowing of funds (or aid) between families during hard times. One idea I can think of is to shift the burden of responsibility towards the whole community, rather than just at a family level.

    I always liked the idea of weekly communal meetings between the money receivers to discuss their financial situation – constraints, spending choices, good investments, bad investments – so maybe that could spark greater community empowerment. Then again, I guess the jury’s still out on how effective this measure really is.

  3. Cathy Farnworth

    This is a fascinating discussion. I am very interested in the remark that food aid was shared but cash was not. Further research needed, but would think the multiple uses of cash, as Sanchit says, are vital. They enable future as well as present investments. Often, access to cash is really tough, esp. for women, and thus highly prized – after all school fees need to be paid, businesses developed etc. Also, food aid is likely to closely imitate local reciprocal coping strategies as suggested in the lead article, whereas effective mechanisms for sharing cash do not exist, I assume.

    The Agricultural Support Programme in Zambia implemented through the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and funded by SIDA specifically addressed the issue of food security at household level. It made this into a family responsibility by working with all household members to discuss how to achieve food security and to devise codes of conduct (not to sell or steal reserved foods) and taught people how much food – maize – to set aside to meet their calorific needs as defined by WHO for a whole year. Households in the ASP had to agree to achieve food security for all HH members before progressing onto the aspects of the programme supporting them selling food etc into markets. It is critical to note that the food security component was embedded in a wider extension programme promoting mixed farming systems (crops/livstock) to enable diverse income flows across the year (thus reducing pressure to sell food stocks) and to diversify sources of nutrition. The results were pretty incredible in many cases in terms of change in gender relations, roles and responsbilities. I believe the household approach can, and should, complement community level strategies as set out by Sanchit above. You can read more about the ASP in my own report and others (Farnworth, C.R. (2010) Gender-aware approaches in agricultural programmes: a study of Sida-supported agricultural programmes. Sida Evaluation 2010: 3. )

  4. Kristy Cook

    We know that in many cases cash and food aid are not fungible, although economists want to believe it. Are there any cases where CTs were implemented along side of active savings clubs, which is one way cash is “shared” among women in Africa?

  5. Lovemore Dumba

    Yes there instances were we have had CT running with ISALs as a way of strengthening both the house hold economy and the local economies through IGAs and increased cash circulation here in Zimbabwe

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.