Research: Cash transfers significantly decrease violence against women in polygamous households in Mali


November 22, 2019

Given that one in three women globally is a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV) in her lifetime, it is important to find scalable interventions that reduce IPV. Cash transfer programs are a promising tool given their scalability and global relevance. While previous evidence shows that cash transfer programs reduced IPV on average, this evidence has focused on cash transfer programs targeted to women mainly in Latin America. But what about cash transfer programs that target household heads (mainly men) in other regions of the world with different household structures?

The new study by Rachel Heath (University of Washington), Melissa Hidrobo (IFPRI Senegal) and Shalini Roy (IFPRI) uses a randomized control trial design to investigate whether Mali's national cash transfer program, Jigisémèjiri, leads to reductions in IPV. Like many programs in Africa, Jigisémèjiri targets household heads who are mainly men, in a context where nearly 40 percent of households are polygamous. The authors find that the program causes significant decreases in IPV, and that those effects are mainly concentrated in polygamous households. In particular, the prevalence of physical violence decreases by 7.2 percentage points, emotional violence decreases by 12.6 percentage points, and controlling behaviors decrease by 16.1 percentage points. These reductions in violence are particularly strong among second (and later) wives, who face the highest rates of violence in the absence of intervention.

Using data collected on the emotional wellbeing of the perpetrator (men in this case) and marital quality, the authors find significant reductions in men's stress and anxiety among polygamous households. The study finds little evidence of improvements in women's bargaining power, which is not surprising in the context where men usually receive the transfer and make decisions about its use.

The impacts are concentrated in polygamous households in West Africa, say the authors, and the questions remain on whether these results would generalize to other settings and different regions where polygamy rates are low. Still, authors believe that these findings have important policy implications:

“Our results suggest that targeting household heads, who are primarily men, reduces women's experience of IPV but does not improve other dimensions of her empowerment. That is, we find that when transfers are given to men, the lives of women from polygamous households – especially second and higher wives, who are not considered empowered by traditional measures – get better in some dimensions, even though they largely do not receive the transfer themselves, do not have a say in how it is spent, and do not show improvements in mobility or economic empowerment. <…>

However, targeting household heads, and in particular men, may reinforce gender norms and male authority (Lees et al., 2018). If impacts of cash transfers on men's emotional well-being are not sustained once the transfer program ends, and there are no sustained impacts on women's empowerment, then it is likely that relationship dynamics will also revert to the way things were before the program (Roy et al., 2017).”


Heath, Rachel; Hidrobo, Melissa; and Roy, Shalini. Cash transfers, polygamy, and intimate partner violence: Experimental evidence from Mali. Journal of Development Economics. Article in press. First published online on November 9, 2019.

This work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Funding support for this study was provided by PIM and an anonymous donor.

This study form part of PIM's research on Social Protection for Agriculture and Resilience.

Learn more:

Cash transfers, polygamy, and intimate partner violence: Experimental evidence from Mali (presentation by the authors at the SVRI Forum (Oct 24, 2019))

Cash transfers and intimate partner violence (blog by Melissa Hidrobo and Shalini Roy)

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)

Cash Transfer and Intimate Partner Violence Research Collaborative

Can transfers and behavior change communication reduce intimate partner violence four years post-program? Experimental evidence from Bangladesh (IFPRI Discussion Paper)

Brochure: Gender Research in PIM

Photo: Habib Kouyate/UNDP