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BLOG: Can cash transfers prevent intimate partner violence?

Can cash transfers prevent intimate partner violence?

MAY 17, 2016

By Melissa Hidrobo, Amber Peterman, and Shalini Roy

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most pervasive form of violence globally—with 1 in 3 women physically or sexually abused by a partner in her lifetime. Of course, averages hide important disparities: Women living in Tokyo’s bustling urban affluence face a different probability of victimization than an impoverished women living in the sprawling slums of Lagos. Yet, partner violence remains stubbornly high—affecting women in all walks of life across the globe.

Despite knowing a lot about prevalence and detrimental impacts of IPV, we are still at the infancy of knowing what works to prevent violence. One focus has been on transforming patriarchal and inequitable attitudes and norms that sustain violence. While enormous progress has been made in the last decade, largely by public health professionals and epidemiologists, in designing and testing interventions — this is no easy task. Social norms that perpetuate gender inequalities are hard to measure and may take years to show meaningful shifts. Equally important are the costs and challenges of taking such interventions to scale. More recently, development economists have explored this question from a different angle, from the start point of anti-poverty programming, including cash transfers. Cash transfers are a widely used policy tool for decreasing poverty and improving human capital, reaching up to 1 billion people across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Cash is often given directly to women, thus potentially changing power dynamics within the household and social norms. Their scale and reach to the most vulnerable populations have led many to ask, “If cash can change household well-being and power dynamics within households, can cash transfers also be used to decrease IPV?”


In 2011, the World Food Programme (WFP) commissioned the International Food Policy Research Institute(IFPRI) to conduct a five country study comparing the effectiveness of food and cash transfers in improving food security of poor households, in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Niger, Uganda, and Yemen. In two of the countries – Ecuador and Bangladesh – research teams were motivated to learn more about how these programs affected gender dynamics within households and expanded the studies to allow a closer look at women’s lives over the intervention period. In particular, quantitative and qualitative methods were used to assess the impact of transfers, given primarily to women, on gender dynamics and IPV. Impact evaluations were conducted using the gold-standard, randomized controlled trials, which allow a causal link to be established between the interventions and IPV.

Collecting data on IPV within economic or poverty targeted interventions is atypical, but these studies highlight that we can learn a lot by doing so, even when reducing violence and altering gender dynamics are not the primary aims of the intervention. Taking certain measures when collecting IPV data is important, however.  Enumerators must be adequately trained on how to solicit sensitive information and how to enactsafety measures that guarantee privacy during interviews and that ensure no other household member is aware that survey questions ask about IPV. Enumerators should also provide all women with disguised contact information for local IPV support services for referral if available, regardless of disclosure of IPV. In order to elicit accurate assessments of violence, quantitative surveys should ask multiple behaviorally specific questions on a range of abusive acts, a technique shown to maximize disclosure; in Ecuador and Bangladesh, research teams administered the internationally validated standardized IPV measures from theWHO Violence Against Women Instrument. For qualitative in-depth interviews, similar protocols of privacy and safety should be enacted. Committing to a safe, ethical, and valid data collection process for IPV does involve small increases in time and resources—but doing so within an existing impact evaluation can add a lot to what is learned.

What have we learned so far? The recently completed Ecuador study, published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, shows that women in households that were given economic based transfers (food, cash or food vouchers) along with nutrition training showed significant decreases in physical and/or sexual violence and controlling behaviors by their partners over the six month study period (decreases ranging from 19 – 30%). What was responsible for these changes? A mixed methods study forthcoming inBMC Public Health, reveals that a key factor was the decreases in poverty-related stress alongside increases in food security of households, which led to less tension and arguments over women needing to ask men for money to buy food. A second factor was that, by targeting women, the transfer program empowered women, improving their bargaining power in the household, self-confidence, and freedom of movement.

Although these results are promising, there is still a lot we do not know. For example, many cash transfers including the Ecuador program combine transfers with other components, such as nutrition trainings and conditions related to education and health, which may have implications for women’s social or human capital. So far, no study has been able to disentangle the impacts of cash versus the other components on IPV. Moreover, we still do not know enough about whether in specific contexts or sub-groups, women might actually be put in danger from receiving cash, due to men utilizing IPV as a method to extract the cash or due to the shift in power dynamics leading to male backlash if men use IPV to re-assert their authority. Most evidence to date on cash transfers and IPV has been in Latin America and given that the effects on IPV may depend on gender norms that vary by context, we need to collect evidence from other regions before concluding that transfers can reduce IPV globally.

This is where the ongoing Bangladesh study fits in. Recently awarded funding from the World Bank Group and nonprofit Sexual Violence Research Initiative, the Bangladesh case study will help to fill these knowledge gaps in several ways. First, the intervention has both transfer-only arms and combined transfer-and-child-nutrition-training arms. Since the intervention arms are assigned randomly, we can disentangle, for example, whether a transfer is enough for impacts on IPV or whether adding training is really necessary. Second, the study comes from a context where IPV is very high – about 53-62 percent of women in Bangladesh report experiencing it in their lifetimes – and where gender norms are very different from Latin America.  For example, female seclusion (women staying inside the home) is a strong sociocultural norm in rural South Asia.  This means that the specific pathway found in Ecuador – disputes being reduced because women no longer need to ask for money for daily purchases like food – may not apply in this context, as men are the ones who typically go to the market. Changes in female bargaining from transfers to women may also play out differently – a study published in Journal of Development Economics showed that, in rural Bangladesh, even when a transfer was specifically targeted to a woman, many dimensions of control over the transfer still went to her husband. Patriarchal norms could also plausibly contribute to backlash if large transfers to women subvert traditional power dynamics.

In a world where we struggle to identify cost-effective and scalable programming to reduce IPV, poverty-targeted interventions such as cash transfers are emerging as promising tools for decreasing IPV. There is still a lot we need to learn: More data and studies are needed on cash transfers and IPV in different contexts, with a specific focus on measuring potential pathways such as bargaining power, stress, and gender norms. We are still a long way from where we need to be – no woman, man or child should suffer from violence inside their own home – but just maybe cash transfers offer a tool to shift us in the right direction.

About the authors
Melissa Hidrobo and Shalini Roy are research fellows in the Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Amber Peterman, former IFPRI research fellow, is a social policy specialist at UNICEF.

The World Food Programme impact evaluation studies referred to in this blog were undertaken as part of PIM’s research on Improved Social Protection for Vulnerable Populations. The Ecuador study was supported by funding from the Government of Spain received through the World Food Programme, as well as from International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) and an anonymous donor. The Bangladesh impact evaluation received financial support from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the PIM Data Collection Innovations fund, and the IFPRI’s Bangladesh Policy Research and Strategy Support Program.

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Why is gender important for REDD+?

IUCN has produced an excellent new video unpacking why women’s resource rights and decision-making need to be taken into account in REDD+ development.

This video was prepared for IUCN with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) via the Gender Equality for Climate Change Opportunities (GECCO) initiative. This video supports a series of six geographically diverse case studies on gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment through REDD+.

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Gender and Land Statistics: new FAO info-note based on a collaborative work with PIM

Reposted from the Engendering Data blog:

FAO Gender and Land team has recently published a new info-note on the linkages between Gender and Land Statistics.

Land statistics disaggregated by sex are essential to highlighting the disparities in secure land rights between women and men. With that in mind, in 2014 FAO joined forced with the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) to develop a common framework for producing sex-disaggregated indicators for FAO’s Gender and Land Rights Database (GLRD). As a result of this work, five indicators were developed. The new info-note provides an overview of the indicators, methodology behind them, and the key concepts that they capture.

FAO’s Gender and Land Rights Database (GLRD) launched its new and improved website in 2015 aiming to increase awareness about gender and land issues around the globe. PIM has been proud to be one of the partners of this initiative, especially because the new GLRD’s indicators of men’s and women’s control over land draw from those proposed in the PIM paper by Doss et al (2013), “Gender Inequalities in Ownership and Control of Land in Africa: Myth versus Reality”.

Read more on this topic in earlier blogs:

FAO’s Gender and Land Rights Database launches a new website

How sex-disaggregated land statistics can help monitor progress of the new Sustainable Development Goals (by Ana Paula de la O Campos (FAO))

Related publications:

Ana Paula de la O Campos, Nynne Warring, Chiara Brunelli, Cheryl Doss, and Caitlin Kieran. 2015. Gender and Land Statistics: Recent developments in FAO’s Gender and Land Rights Database. FAO/PIM Technical Note (pdf)

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New publication: Gender, Assets, and Agricultural Development: Lessons from Eight Projects

Originally posted on the Gender, Agriculture, and Asset Project (GAAP) website

A new paper co-authored by GAAP PIs and other  GAAP1 team members, synthesizing the findings of the 8 impact evaluations of projects which were part of the first phase of GAAP, is now available. The evaluations used mixed methods to show the impact agricultural development programs have on individual and household assets in seven countries in Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia.

While all projects showed an increase in assets at the household level, only 4 were able to increase women’s control of assets, and only one project contributed to a reduction in the gender-asset gap. Similarly, many projects showed an increase in women’s income but were unable to increase the relative control women have over income from projects.

The review did find, however, that even in cases where there were no impacts on asset ownership and control over income, the interventions improved women’s lives and welfare and influenced underlying norms about women’s work and participation in decision-making.

In addition to the quantitative and qualitative findings from GAAP1 on the importance of paying greater attention to gender and assets by researchers and development implementers, the methodological contributions made by the program to the study of gender and assets will be used and built upon in thesecond phase of GAAP (GAAP2).

More information about the GAAP1 portfolio can be found here.

The paper ‘Gender, Assets, and Agricultural Development: Lessons from Eight Projects’ is open-access and can be read here.

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The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics

At the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Governments adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which “seeks to promote and protect the full enjoyment of all human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all women throughout their life cycle.” Guided by these principles, the World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics presents the latest statistics and analyses of the status of women and men in areas of concern identified by the Platform for Action. It also reviews progress towards gender equality over the past 20 years. The publication is the sixth edition in a series.

The World’s Women 2015 comprises eight chapters covering critical areas of policy concern: population and families, health, education, work, power and decision-making, violence against women, environment, and poverty. In each area, a life-cycle approach is introduced to reveal the experiences of women and men during different periods of life—from childhood and the formative years, through the working and reproductive stages, to older ages.

The statistics and analyses presented in the following pages are based on a comprehensive and careful assessment of a large set of available data from international and national statistical agencies. Each chapter provides an assessment of gaps in gender statistics, highlighting progress in the availability of statistics, new and emerging methodological developments, and areas demanding further attention from the international community. In addition to the data presented in the chapters, a wide selection of statistics and indicators at the global, regional and country levels can be found in the Statistical Annex of this report.

Click here to download by chapters

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New publication: Gender, headship, and the life cycle: Landownership in four Asian countries


Originally posted on the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) blog

Despite increasing evidence that households do not always function as one, policies regarding land and property rights are often formulated at the household level, assuming the primary adult male is the landowner. Because land policy reform has typically focused on changing household, rather than individual, rights to land, many of the data are collected at the household rather than the individual level. As a result of a combination of these factors, securing women’s land rights has remained a largely unaddressed issue by policymakers.

So as to inform the formulation of policies and interventions to strengthen women’s land rights, a new discussion paper by Kathryn Sproule, Caitlin Kieran, Agnes Quisumbing, and Cheryl Doss analyzes data from Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam to understand the processes by which men and women acquire land; the social, cultural, and legal institutions surrounding gender and landownership; and the role of individual and household characteristics influencing an individual’s ability to own land.

The authors’ finding that women own less land than do men across different household structures and that intrahousehold gender inequality is higher in households with larger landholdings suggests an agenda for future research and policy that strengthens women’s land rights within marriage, and protects them should the marriage dissolve.

Citation: Sproule, Kathryn; Kieran, Caitlin; Quisumbing, Agnes R.; and Doss, Cheryl. 2015. Gender, headship, and the life cycle: Landownership in four Asian countries. IFPRI Discussion Paper 1481. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).


This work was undertaken as part of PIM’s cross-cutting gender research.

Featured image: Calling it a day, Flickr, photo credit Staffan Scherz

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Special issue of Agri-Gender: The Journal of Gender, Agriculture, and Food Security

Special Issue on Gender and Policies, Markets and Institutions

Editors: Jemimah Njuki and Cheryl Doss

The Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security (Agri-Gender) is an international, open access, peer-reviewed and refereed journal published by the Africa Centre for Gender, Social Research and Impact Assessment. The main objective of Agri-Gender is to provide an intellectual platform for international scholars to publish their research work on gender, agriculture and food security. The journal aims to promote interdisciplinary research related to gender and the agricultural and food sciences.

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Publication in Dædalus: Invisible Women

New publication from Catherine Bertini in Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Abstract: Women are ubiquitous and critical to the nutritional well-being of their families, yet they are often invisible to policy-makers, public officials, community leaders, and researchers. Effecting significant decreases in the number of hungry poor people, as well as the improvement of nutritional and economic outcomes, requires policy in addition to operational and research priorities that are directed at the needs of women and girls.

Read the article here: Bertini (2015). Invisible Women.

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Takeaways from twenty years of gender and rural development research at IFPRI: Household decision making and women’s control over resources

Returning back home after working in field at Khagrachari, Bangladesh. Photo: Farha Khan. Source: Flickr (IFPRI Images)

Returning back home after working in field at Khagrachari, Bangladesh. Photo: Farha Khan. Source: Flickr (IFPRI Images)

The following blog by IFPRI gender experts Sophie Theis, Agnes Quisumbing, and Ruth Meinzen-Dick is the first in a four-part series leading up to the Policy Seminar on “Beijing +20 and Beyond: How Gender Research Is Changing the Landscape of Food Policy,” to be held on October 14, 2015 at IFPRI’s Washington, DC headquarters. The blog was originally posted on IFPRI.org.

It’s been twenty years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action launched an agenda for gender equality as a human right, a condition for social justice, and a “necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development, and peace.” Beijing set its sights on removing all barriers for women’s equal participation in public and private spheres. The past twenty years have provided the opportunity for significant learning about how to do so, in a vast range of “spheres.”

In this context of looking back to look forward, we take stock of research at IFPRI over the past 20 years that contributed to advancing gender equality by generating evidence from action, and compelling action from the evidence produced. See full list of publications (PDF 94K).

In this blog series, we review key takeaways from the last 20 years of IFPRI gender research. This first blog of four explores two early themes of IFPRI gender research:

  • unpacking the “black box” of household decision making
  • understanding the impact of resources controlled by women

Tune in to the next post in the blog series to see how gender research at IFPRI has evolved since then, and join us on October 14th for an IFPRI policy seminar celebrating Beijing+20.

Most of the articles are published in peer-reviewed journals, but the hyperlinks provided go to the open access versions of the publications, except where noted with an asterisk.

Household decision making: unpacking the “black box”:

  • Men and women within households do not make decisions “as one”; they do not always pool resources or have the same preferences.  Therefore, it matters who within the household is targeted for development interventions (Haddad et al. 1997); increasing women’s control of resources is associated with better education, health, and nutrition outcomes for children (Quisumbing, ed. 2003).  These findings from IFPRI’s gender research are used to draw out Implications for practitioners and policymakers across a wide range of programmatic areas in Quisumbing and McClafferty (2006).
  • Across societies as diverse as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and South Africa, assets at marriage influence men’s and women’s bargaining power within marriage.  In Bangladesh and South Africa, women’s assets increase expenditure shares on education, while in Ethiopia, men’s assets have this effect (Quisumbing and Maluccio 2003)*.
  • Bargaining power affects some, but not all, aspects of individual welfare within the household (Fafchamps, Kebede, Quisumbing 2009). In Ethiopia, the relative nutritional status of spouses is associated with differences in cognitive ability, independent income and asset devolution upon divorce. Women’s empowerment benefits child nutrition and education. All in all, bargaining power may be weakly associated with some aspects of intrahousehold welfare because surveyed households are poor and have little room for disagreement over consumption.

Human capital and resources controlled by women:

  • An important example of evidence to action, in 1997 the Government of Mexico, drew on the findings from the intrahousehold literature that resources under women’s control are important for child welfare for the design and implementation of PROGRESA (now called Oportunidades).  PROGRESA was a large, conditional cash transfer program targeting transfers to the mother within the household, conditional on children attending school and going to health clinics.  A subsequent evaluation of PROGRESA showed the program increased enrollment rates in secondary education for girls and yields positive impacts on child health and nutrition, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings of the poor (Skoufias 2001).
  • The findings of the evaluation of PROGRESA, in turn, influenced other countries to follow suit.  InConditional Cash Transfers in Latin America, Adato and Hoddinott (2010) analyze evidence from case studies of CCTs in Brazil, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua, considering their costs, impacts on education, health, nutrition, and food consumption, and how CCT programs affect social and gender relations.
  • Hallman (2003) finds that in Bangladesh, maternal and paternal shares of assets acquired before and during marriage have different impacts on boys’ and girls’ health.  A higher share of current assets held by fathers reduces boys’ illness days, while a higher share of pre-wedding assets held by mothers’ reduces girls’ morbidity.

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Publication: “Focus on Families and Culture: A guide for conducting a participatory assessment on maternal and child nutrition”

For many years Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) programs have focused on women of reproductive age (WRA) given that they and their young offspring are the primary risk groups. This choice has also been influenced by the idea that WRA act independently regarding MCHN practices.

In the past few years, programs have increasingly involved men based on the assumption that they play a leading role in MCHN at the family level. This may be true in the Western world, but it may not always be true in non-Western collectivist cultures where women are part of extended and hierarchically structured families in which various actors, in addition to husbands, influence women’s thinking and behavior.

This guide from the Grandmother Project is a state-of-the-art, user-friendly guide for program managers and planners for conducting a MCHN assessment to investigate intra-household roles and influence.  The FFC guide introduces a holistic, or systemic, framework that can assist program staff to more effectively identify key priority groups for interventions.  After learning about the development and key concepts and the methodology, one is taken step by step through the assessment process, complete with case examples, sample tools and diagrams.

Download the guide here.