Are Cash Transfers in Latin America Gender-Sensitive?

Even in countries where gender equality is a main driver in policy design, the division of childcare among parents is unequal. We need to ask some important questions: Are we doing enough to promote gender equality? How can social policies be better designed to close the gender gap and empower all women and girls? How can social policies include women’s specific needs?

I recently joined a team of experts at UNICEF Innocenti to try to answer these questions by analysing the gender aspects of cash transfer programmes targeted at children and their households. We analysed programmatic documents and reports from governments, ministries and other stakeholders at the national and international level to review the extent to which social protection programmes incorporate gender from a legal and policy perspective. However, this method does not allow us to examine effective coverage, or actual implementation of laws and policies. Nonetheless, assessing legal coverage is critical to understand the overall social protection programme, the extent to which gender is reflected in its design features, and the State’s degree of commitment towards gender equality in general.

Using four dimensions, we explored whether the selected social protection programmes are gender-sensitive:

  1. Legal and policy frameworks into which the social protection programme is embedded
  2. Risks and structural inequalities addressed in the programme objectives
  3. Design and delivery mechanisms, including conditionalities
  4. Governance, monitoring, and evaluation mechanisms

While the research is cross-regional and cross-country, in this blog, I will focus on preliminary findings for conditional cash transfers (CCTs) in nine countries in Latin America. CCTs are cash payments given to poor people when they meet certain conditions. This type of social protection is popular in the region and aims to alleviate poverty in the short term while improving children’s health and education in order to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty in the long term.

© UNICEF/UNI189338/Gilbertson VAgustina Vargas de Esteban, smiling, washes dishes in the kitchen sink, at home in District 7, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city of El Alto, near La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.

Some preliminary findings

Are programme objectives and targeting gender-sensitive?

Most programmes look to address child poverty and often assign mothers as recipients of the cash transfer, with the assumption that they spend relatively more on their children’s needs compared to male caregivers. Some programmes, such as in Bolivia, have the explicit objective of targeting people who are not covered by any other social protection programme. Others consider intersecting risks and vulnerabilities, such as disabilities and ethnic monitoring, and target programmes accordingly.

Overall, the research suggests that targeting methods are not gender-sensitive. Assigning mothers as the transfer recipient does not make the programmes responsive to women’s specific needs. On the contrary, it reinforces gender expectations for mothers as main carers.

Do conditionalities and sanctions add more burden on women?

Conditionalities are contentious—many critics are opposed to sanctions for not meeting conditions and feel that conditions imply that poor people do not know what is best for their children. The responsibility of meeting conditionalities often falls on women, creating an extra burden for them, while fathers are usually absent in the design of CCTs (Cookson, 2018; Molyneux, 2006).

In this study, most conditionalities are related to healthcare and education, such as mandatory medical check-ups or school attendance. Non-compliance of these conditions lead to sanctions or punitive measures resulting in the termination of the cash transfer immediately (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay) or gradually (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru). Since mothers are the recipients of these benefits in most programmes, conditionalities and sanctions can risk putting more burden on women who must meet conditions regardless of the availability of health and education services.

Patterns in gender-sensitive social protection programming in nine countries in Latin America.

Are design and delivery features based on gender risks, inequalities, and dynamics?

Three programmes (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay) recognise that women face a greater risk of poverty and have generally less access to resources, such as land or capital. In light of this, these programmes assign women as transfer recipients. Only Argentina’s programme acknowledges that unpaid care and domestic work are primarily carried out by women, highlighting that school attendance and improved children’s health broaden the possibilities for mothers to look for work or perform better in their jobs.

Only two countries (Argentina, Bolivia) include coverage for informal workers, including domestic workers, unemployed people, single taxpayers, or those without health insurance. This is critical considering the high level of informality in the labour market in these countries: 77,7% in Bolivia and 48,1% in Argentina (ILOSTAT, 2019). While there is no significant difference between female and male informal employment in Argentina, in Bolivia informal employment is 80,2% for women and 75,5% for men (World Bank, 2019).

Is gender integrated into governance, monitoring, and evaluation?

Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms help ensure effective programming, including adequate coverage and giving a voice to recipients. In our study, most programmes include some form of grievance or feedback mechanism that informs policy assessment and reform. In Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay, the monitoring and evaluation frameworks use sex and age-disaggregated data. However, there is a lack of gender-specific indicators, such as gender norms and women’s empowerment, in most of the cash transfer programmes.

Governance systems that integrate women’s participation help ensure that women raise concerns and are part of the programme management. In Paraguay, women are elected as leaders (lideresas) by other recipients, to create groups within the community and act as a spokesperson between the users and the programme implementers. In Peru, the lead mothers (madres líderes) help train recipient mothers in health and education issues, encourage them to meet the programme conditions, and act as a point of contact between the recipients and the local managers. For the rest of the countries, no data was found on governance mechanisms.

What’s next?

This research is an important step towards understanding how women and girls’ needs are considered in the design of Latin American CCTs. Although legal coverage provides us with an overall picture of these programmes, future research is needed to determine how social protection affects women and girls in practice, including reinforcing traditional gender roles or increasing empowerment.  Furthermore, research on men or diverse household structures, such as same-sex couples or LGBTQ+ households in general, could help close the evidence gap and lead us towards more gender equal social protection.

 

Constanza Ginestra joined the UNICEF Innocenti as an intern in May 2019 to work with our team on a gender analysis of social protection programmes targeted to children in low- and middle-income countries, focusing on Latin America. Here, Constanza summarises some preliminary results of the research. For further information on UNICEF Innocenti’s GRASSP project, see here.

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