Cash transfers and intimate partner violence


by Melissa Hidrobo and Shalini Roy

Cash transfers are a promising tool to reduce intimate partner violence, but can they be effective across diverse contexts and program design? In this blog, first published on VoxDev, IFPRI colleagues Melissa Hidrobo and Shalini Roy identify three policy-relevant knowledge gaps related to the potential of transfer programs to reduce IPV, then address them drawing on case studies from three countries: Ecuador, Bangladesh, and Mali.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most pervasive form of violence globally, with one in three women physically or sexually abused by a partner in her lifetime (Devries et al. 2013). IPV has multiple malign consequences for the physical and mental health of women, as well as a range of adverse effects on their children. While these consequences are well documented, there is less evidence on the effectiveness of policies and programs in reducing IPV in the developing world.

Drawing mainly from Latin America, several recent studies find evidence that cash transfer programs, targeted primarily at women, can reduce IPV. Given that cash transfer programs are widespread around the world – implemented in over 130 countries and reaching approximately 718 million people globally (World Bank 2015) – they represent a promising, scalable, globally-relevant approach to reducing IPV. However, important questions remain as to whether policymakers can generalize the existing findings to diverse settings and whether these programs provide a sustainable approach for IPV prevention.

Photo by Felix Clay/WorldFish

Three case studies

Over the last 20 years, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has conducted numerous randomized evaluations of cash transfer programs throughout the developing world. Although reductions in IPV have not been the main focus of these programs or their evaluations, recently researchers have begun studying the unintended impacts of cash transfer programs on IPV. We present findings from several recent IFPRI studies. We identify three policy-relevant knowledge gaps related to the potential of transfer programs to reduce IPV, then address them drawing on case studies from three countries around the globe: Ecuador, Bangladesh, and Mali.

First, we note that transfer modalities other than cash, such as food and vouchers, are widespread around the world. These alternative modalities may serve some objectives better than cash, raising the question of whether there is a trade-off to using these modalities in terms of IPV impacts. The first case study in Ecuador asks the following question:

  • Does the modality of transfer provided – food, cash, voucher – matter for impacts on IPV?

Second, most cash transfer programs do not continue indefinitely. If these programs are to be a sustainable solution to reducing IPV, their impacts must persist after the programs end. However, there is little rigorous evidence on the post-program impacts of cash transfers on IPV. Moreover, many cash transfer programs in the developing world include complementary programming such as training, but much of the evidence showing that cash transfer programs reduce IPV has been unable to distinguish the roles of these components. Given that the complementary programming may be logistically challenging and costly to implement, it is important to know if it is required for reductions in IPV. The second case study in Bangladesh asks the following question:

  • What happens to IPV after a transfer program ends, and does it depend on complementary activities provided along with transfers?

Lastly, much of the evidence on cash transfers and IPV focuses on programs targeted to women in monogamous households. However, in some regions, targeting women may be viewed as contextually inappropriate. In parts of the developing world, particularly in Africa, diverse household structures such as polygamy are also common. The third case study in Mali asks the following question:

  • What are the impacts on IPV when cash transfers are targeted primarily to men, and does it depend on household structure?

Continue to read the story on VoxDev>>

Also see:

Transfer programs, child nutrition, and intimate partner violence (Video with Shalini Roy)

Webinar: Cash transfer programs and intimate partner violence – Lessons from 3 case studies around the globe (Presenters: Melissa Hidrobo and Shalini Roy)

Brochure: Gender Research in PIM