Getting a social protection program off the ground includes a myriad of decisions. To whom should the benefits be paid? Should benefits be paid manually or digitally? And what complementary information and services should be bundled with the cash? These design choices—like many others—have implications for gender-based violence (GBV) within households.
A growing body of evidence finds that cash transfers reduce violence against women and children—even when the cash transfer was not designed with violence prevention in mind. Research has primarily focused on the impacts of cash transfers on intimate partner violence. A few studies have examined the impacts on violence against children and adolescent girls. A recent study looked at non-partner domestic violence, and found measurable declines. Overall, the evidence finds that the effects of cash transfers in curbing violence against women and children are overwhelmingly positive and comparable to stand-alone violence prevention interventions.
Researchers hypothesize that there are three impact pathways through which cash transfers affect GBV:
- Reducing poverty and food insecurity, thereby limiting the potential for conflict in households
- Empowering women, increasing their status in communities, and reducing their dependence on others
- Increasing women’s social capital, boosting their self-esteem, self-efficacy, and support networks
Research generated during the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed these impact pathways—and their importance in the context of crises. As researchers hypothesized early in the pandemic, quarantine measures induced business closures, layoffs, and loss of income of workers globally, leading to rising financial insecurity and tensions within households. A CGD series led by Amber Peterman identified this financial insecurity stemming from lost income and employment as a key risk factor for increased violence against both women and children, and social protection programs, when well-designed, as a critical policy response for mitigating these risks.
Watch the World Bank's video on impact pathways.
Designing social protection programs for women’s empowerment and GBV prevention
Once we understand how the impact pathways work, we can design social protection programs in a way that activates them. If we look carefully, every step of the social protection delivery chain offers entry points to empower women and minimize risks. For example, during the outreach and enrollment phase, messaging can underscore that women are the intended transfer recipients, thereby increasing the likelihood that women will be able to retain control over the funds while minimizing any risk of backlash. Making payments digitally into women’s accounts can boost financial inclusion and enable them to conceal payments from violent partners if needed. Complementary measures such as training and coaching offer opportunities to bring women together in groups to build their social capital and self-esteem. Grievance mechanisms can be leveraged to connect women to services, including GBV survivor services.
Watch the World Bank's video on the social protection delivery chain.
Every design decision in a social protection program comes with opportunities and risks. The right design choice will always depend on context and tradeoffs between competing objectives. Capacity constraints and institutional arrangements might limit a program’s ability to implement certain design choices. The key is to identify risks and put in place context-specific mitigation measures.
A new e-learning course on the World Bank’s Open Learning Campus takes you through the most significant design decisions for cash transfer programs from a women’s empowerment and GBV perspective, based on an operational toolkit published in 2021 entitled Safety First: How to leverage safety nets to prevent gender-based violence. The 90-minute course aims to help you understand trade-offs between different design options and make choices that result in more inclusive and impactful social protection programs.
There is much to learn about how specific cash transfer design features affect GBV and which combinations of design features are most effective in reducing GBV. But given how pervasive and costly GBV is both individually and collectively, understanding the impact pathways can point us in the right direction.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.