Published on Let's Talk Development

Five things you should know about how safety nets can curb gender-based violence

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1. Chances are your safety net project is already reducing gender-based violence (without really trying).

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 .  A review of 22 studies in low- and middle-income countries found that a majority (16 out of 22) of cash transfer interventions led to reductions in intimate partner violence, while two had mixed impact. None of studies showed an increase in violence. Not only are the effects of cash transfers in curbing violence against women and children overwhelmingly positive, they can be substantial and are comparable to the effects of stand-alone violence prevention interventions. For example, the reduction in instances of intimate partner violence was between 11% and 66% among households receiving cash transfers. Since the review was published in 2018, new research has solidified this encouraging pattern.

Safety nets are able to effectively reduce gender-based violence (GBV) by: (1) reducing poverty and food insecurity, thereby limiting the potential for conflict in households; (2) empowering women, increasing their status in communities and reducing their dependence on others; and (3) increasing women’s social capital, boosting their self-esteem, self-efficacy and support networks.

2. Gender-based violence undermines everything safety nets work so hard to achieve.
Gender-based violence is pervasive, affecting more than one in three women worldwide. Violence is a drain on human capital and productivity, affecting not only the victims but everyone who witnesses it . Estimates are that the cost to a country of gender-based violence is as much as 6% of GDP – far more than the average middle-income country invests in health, education, or social protection.
Research over the last three decades has demonstrated that safety nets are a powerful tool to deliver a range of benefits over and above income and consumption, including health, nutrition, education, productivity, and wellbeing. To protect and amplify those positive impacts, safety nets should be leveraged more systematically to prevent gender-based violence. 

3. You can harness the preventive potential of safety nets through simple design and implementation tweaks.
We have just released a toolkit on how to leverage safety nets to prevent gender-based violence. The toolkit offers ideas for tweaks at every step of the social protection delivery chain that can help amplify the protective and empowering effect of safety nets. It outlines risks, opportunities and mitigation measures at every major design decision point to help practitioners make informed choices among options. 
Here are some examples of the ideas you’ll find:

  • When conducting outreach and enrollment, explore whether you can communicate program objectives in a way that helps shift gender norms towards greater equality, drawing on the evidence on labelling. This is also a key stage to build buy-in for women’s participation in the program and to prevent backlash, so remember to work with norm holders and influencers such as mothers-in-law, husbands, elders, and community leaders.
  • Where possible, pay transfers to women, whether digitally or in cash. Explore how you can bundle cash with accompanying measures that build women’s skills, confidence, and support networks, building on existing women’s groups where possible. It may make sense to involve men and boys at key points to improve how households plan, make decisions, and resolve conflicts. 
  • We believe that simple design tweaks can add up to significant gains, but make sure you monitor whether the measures you put in place are having the intended effect. It is not advisable to routinely collect data on GBV, as this comes with specific ethical requirements intended to protect people from harm. But there are other data points that can yield clues as to whether your safety net is reducing GBV: Are women able to influence how cash transfer resources are spent? Are they more involved in decision-making in their households? How do households resolve conflicts? Do women feel more connected and supported in their communities? Has their sense of wellbeing improved?

4. It’s not a cut-and-paste job.
The toolkit brings together evidence and examples from a range of low- and middle-income countries. But of course, social norms and the drivers of violence are context specific. Each section of the toolkit begins with a series of key questions to help you think through entry points and relevant issues for your circumstances. Our hope is that these will inspire you to come up with new approaches and ideas that are best suited to your situation.  

5. This is a call for thoughtful, inclusive cash transfer design – not for creating new GBV prevention projects.
We’re not suggesting that safety net projects become violence prevention projects. We are aware that as is, safety net projects are often under enormous pressure to deliver on competing sectoral priorities. This is especially challenging in places where implementation capacity is constrained.
The vast majority of the design and implementation tweaks  suggested in the toolkit are not necessarily GBV-specific. Rather, they are about making safety nets more inclusive, ensuring we seize the many entry points they offer to move towards greater gender equality. 


Alessandra Heinemann

Senior Social Protection Specialist and Gender Lead

Stephanie Kuttner

Senior Gender and Social Development Consultant

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