Conditional Cash Transfers – are they helping promote gender equity?

Published on Monday, 20 May 2013

Published by Sri Wening Handayani on Monday, 20 May 2013

For a non-gender specialist writing on gender equity, I have to say upfront that I don’t dare pretend to know everything about gender dimensions of Conditional Cash Transfers or CCTs. However, I’d like to throw questions and may perhaps strengthen the gender equity impact of CCTs. 

We’ve had the opportunity to discuss gender benefits of CCTs with the beneficiaries of Philippines’ Pantawid Pamilya as part of the ADB-IDB South-South Learning on CCTs held in mid-April. As we’ve seen, more than 90% of the attendees are women. It is therefore very interesting to discuss how CCTs benefit women. 

Let me start with the premise that the CCT program basically targets the household and not the individual. The beneficiary count usually pertains to the number of households.  The woman is often selected as the primary recipient. This is not by accident, evidence from impact evaluation of CCT programs in Latin America and most recently the CCTs in the Philippines have shown that women tend to spend more on the welfare of the children. And the nice thing is that CCTs are not about the cash transfer only but it has some empowering effect on woman.  What we’ve seen is that when the woman has means to spend, they participate more in the spending decisions in the household. CCTs may have effects on improving the balance in intra-household dynamics. This in return translates into status improvement of women in the community. 

Then with this process in the household as well as in the community, CCTs help create a new form of sociability. There is what we call the intangible impact of the CCTs that can increase the standing and dignity of the woman within the community as well as within the household.  Some limited type of CCTs such as in Bangladesh and Cambodia, addressed gender specific vulnerabilities, for example the provision of stipend for girls to reduce dropout rates and also reduce the early marriage age. This is already well documented particularly in the case of Bangladesh.  

However, as much as CCTs are becoming tools to empower women, there is also a counter argument about the gender dimensions of the CCTs pointing to the notion that CCTs reinforce the traditional role of women being responsible for rearing children and attending to the health and education upbringing of the children. It seems that CCTs are creating stereotypes by showing that a woman is rewarded for being a good mother, they have to take care of children, make sure that they go to school, achieve what you call target indicators of 85% of attendance in school and go to the clinic and attend the family development sessions as in the example of Philippines CCTs. This reinforces that all the responsibility within the household is on the woman. 

Hence, we have to be careful  in incorporating too many expectations in CCTs for promoting gender equity. While a CCT program may address gender-specific vulnerabilities, we have to be aware that CCTs is not a panacea.  CCTs cannot guarantee the social and economic autonomy of women. This is very important to note. It doesn't mean that after cash is given,  the woman become powerful enough to decide what they want to do within a household.  The more successful CCTs also provide parallel investments in complementary programs to strengthen the role of women in the household and increase their productivity (increasing participation in social and economic activities). This is very critical because if you want to lift them out  of poverty, you cannot just give cash. That's very clear. 

The cash grants should be appreciated as part of a bigger program coupled with other social protection interventions like health insurance, skills development and linked to national poverty reduction programs so that they are able to access livelihood opportunities, micro-finance and other support.

In summary, we do face a number of challenges while increasing the gender equity impact of CCT programs.  

  • First, CCT programs should be seen only as one element of the inclusive development agenda, and therefore it has to converge with other development programs.  
  • Second, an inclusive approach must be installed.  This approach must address a larger set of gender, economic and social vulnerabilities.  
  • Third, gender-sensitive indicators must be improved so as to enable  more concrete impact evaluations on this aspect.  

Consequently, impacts in relation to traditional outcomes, family dynamics and women's empowerment must be sufficiently monitored and revisited.