Shalini Roy is research fellow in the Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). She leads “Social Protection Delivery and Outcomes” cluster in the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM). In this interview, recorded as part of the PIM’s series Why is social protection important for agriculture and resilience? Watch our colleagues explain!, Shalini talks about the linkages between transfer programs, nutrition, and behavior change communication and discusses some very influential findings of the Transfer Modality Research Initiative in Bangladesh. She then deliberates on another important question: can transfer programs affect gender relations in a household? Specifically, will transfers targeted to women worsen or improve how their husbands treat them? Finally, what do people designing social protection programs need to know and how can researchers help them?
See summary of the interview below:
Transfer programs are wide-spread in the developing world. DFID estimates that there are over a billion beneficiaries worldwide. The evidence shows that these are very effective interventions for improving food security and reducing poverty. At the same time, there are very limited or mixed effects on nutrition. Is it because resources are not the only constraint in terms of improving nutrition? Could it be that poor people need something else, like information on how to use resources effectively for improving nutrition?
These questions were in part the motivation for the Transfer Modality Research Initiative in Bangladesh, a two-year study (2012-2014) undertaken by IFPRI in collaboration with the UN World Food Program. Participating women with young children received either food or cash with or without intensive nutrition behavior change communication (BCC). The study showed that while all the transfer modalities improved food security and incomes, only the combination of cash with BCC reduced stunting. As a result of this study, the Government of Bangladesh added nutrition behavior change communication to the Vulnerable Group Development Program, the largest social protection program for destitute rural women in Bangladesh.
Dr. Akhter Ahmed (center) from IFPRI Bangladesh, Principal Investigator of the TMRI, provides a mixed cash and food transfer to a TMRI beneficiary in Rangpur District in northern Bangladesh in February 2014. Photo credit: IFPRI Bangladesh.
For more information on the TMRI, see PIM Outcome Note: Strengthening resilience of rural households through improved social protection
Many people (including researchers) have been concerned that transfer programs targeted to women may introduce conflict within the household. In particular, that men might try to reassert their authority either by perpetrating violence against women, or by taking control over resources received from the transfer. But the evidence by and large shows the opposite: transfers reduce intimate partner violence (IPV). First, women become more empowered to not accept violence. Second, the reduction of poverty from the transfer reduces stress and associated conflict within the household.
But how sustainable are these effects? What happens after the transfer interventions end? In Bangladesh, we found that 6 to 10 months after the program ended, transfers only had no effect on IPV compared to the group that had received nothing. On the other hand, groups that received transfers along with behavior change communication showed significant reductions in violence. The BCC component of the program was crucial in increasing women’s social capital and raising their visibility in public. This also increased visibility of any violence against them.
For more information on this topic, see our webinar with Melissa Hidrobo and Shalini Roy "Cash transfer programs and intimate partner violence – Lessons from 3 case studies around the globe”
We now know that social protection can be very effective in reducing poverty and improving food security. There is evidence that it can be an effective platform for other objectives, particularly when linked to complimentary activities. It has been shown that linking social protection with nutrition sensitive activities improve nutritional outcomes, when transfers alone don’t do it. We’ve also seen that linking transfers to activities that engage women reduce intimate partner violence when transfers alone won’t necessarily have sustained effects on it. So, it is important to think about how social protection, which reaches a large part of the developing world, can be used as a platform to achieve other development objectives at scale.
Visit Flagship 4 page to learn more about PIM’s research on social protection for agriculture and resilience.
Why is social protection important for agriculture and resilience? Watch our colleagues explain! (Part 1, Daniel Gilligan)
Why is social protection important for agriculture and resilience? Watch our colleagues explain! (Part 2, Harold Alderman)
Why is social protection important for agriculture and resilience? Watch our colleagues explain! (Parts 3-4, Sheri Arnott, Bart Minten)
Cash or food transfers combined with behavior change communication reduce intimate partner violence: evidence from Bangladesh
Can cash transfers prevent intimate partner violence?