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Gender impact analysis of unconditional cash transfers in south central Somalia

Summary of published research1

A woman tiedyes clothing

Location: Somalia

What we know already: Cash transfer programming can positively impact on nutrition and food security.

What this article adds: In challenging contexts, with good management, unconditional cash transfers can have a positive impact on gender relations, mental health and may have longer term impact on coping mechanisms.

Wide-scale cash transfer programming was implemented by the Cash Consortium (amongst others) from September 2011 onwards, after the first famine of the 21st century was announced in Somalia. Prolonged conflict and drought created a humanitarian crisis that put 2.85 million people in need of food aid and other basic necessities, the majority (61%) of whom resided in South- Central Somalia. Many of the affected population also fled to urban centres and this created large internally displaced people (IDP) camps in the capital of Mogadishu. As a result, the Cash Consortium organisations targeted four regions in South Central Somalia, all of which had been identified by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) as in need of emergency assistance. The areas were: IDP camps in Mogadishu, targeted by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and Action Contre la Faim (ACF), Lower Juba and Gedo was covered by Adeso – African Development Solutions, (formerly Horn Relief) and in Hiran, programmes were implemented by Save the Children.

The South Central region of Somalia continues to face challenges in terms of equality between women and men. Maternal mortality in Somalia is amongst the highest in the world, female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) rates remain extremely high (98%) and female nutrition is notoriously worse than that of men (UNICEF Statistics, 2010). Gender-based violence is reportedly high, although solid data are difficult to come across.

In recognition of certain knowledge gaps concerning the appropriateness and impact of implementing unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) at scale in Somalia, the Cash Consortium commissioned four research studies in 2012. One of the studies set out to assess the impact of cash on gender relations within the household as well as on the wider community with respect to coping mechanisms, social status and levels of conflict and violence.

The study employed both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools, including eight focus group discussions, 109 questionnaires and 31 interviews. In total, 204 beneficiaries in South Central Somalia were consulted.

Key findings

Gender consideration in humanitarian contexts is possible and despite challenging operating environments, feasible and realistic measures to improve beneficiary protection can be included in UCT planning and implementation. Approaches include engaging the community in sensitisation on targeting criteria, creating a flexible complaints procedure (for example, a hotline where beneficiaries can text or call in), ensuring staff and community members of both genders are involved in selecting beneficiaries and conducting post-distribution monitoring, limiting the time spent in travelling to cash distribution centres, limiting the visibility of beneficiaries as recipients of cash (by mobile UCT transfers) and enabling beneficiaries to have the cash collected by someone they trust (if necessary).

Some beneficiaries self-reported (without prompt) improvements in specific areas of mental health, and said they experienced “higher morale” and felt “less depressed.” The findings show that social status increased for both women and men, but only along gendered lines. For example, women felt more included in social functions, while men felt more included in religious functions. Certain populations saw the greatest gains in social status. These were (in order of the importance of the proportional change): widowed and divorced beneficiaries, agropastoralists, agriculturalists, IDPs in camps, older recipients and women in general.

Beneficiaries increased their capacity to give qaaraan as a result of the cash transfer. This type of sharing was a traditional coping mechanism and protective factor that increased resilience in the face of future adversity. However, women experienced less opportunity to gain social status through giving qaaraan as the re-distribution of wealth (particularly to extended family) was mainly the job of men.

Female headed households, who were outside normative and hegemonic power structures such as marriage, can expect to gain proportionally more social status from UCTs as they hold greater control over the re-distribution of wealth and giving of qaaraan. Interestingly, the greatest shift in attitudes on women’s ability to manage cash occurred in IDP camps, where there are a large number of female headed households.

Beneficiaries reported an increase in their perceived risk of theft (18%), and risk of taxation (9%). While perceptions of risk increased, actual incidences were not clearly reported (though it is very difficult to report on such sensitive issues).

Polygamous households, in which only one wife received cash, were more likely to experience intra-household conflict, and ‘splitting’ the cash in a polygamous household may not be feasible or appropriate. As a result, there is a need to consider how UCT programmers will approach the targeting of polygamous households in the future.

Within the household, there was overwhelming agreement (95%) on the use of cash and very little reported conflict. Beneficiaries said that the cash created peace and harmony within the household and wider community, as hunger and malnutrition and the pressures of daily life were lessened. A significant factor in maintaining peace was the involvement of the Voluntary Relief Committees (VRCs) and community members.

The sensitisation of the community on targeting criteria was successful and 98% of beneficiaries surveyed knew why they had been targeted. Targeting female beneficiaries was overwhelmingly accepted by the community and women were seen as the ‘rightful’ beneficiaries of UCTs. This was closely linked to seeing women as the household managers and to binary distinctions between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ spending.

The majority of beneficiaries (78%) said that women and men have different priorities in their spending of UCTs. This was backed by findings that female beneficiaries spend twice as much on school fees than male beneficiaries. There was solid evidence that women in urban areas (within Gedo and Hiran, but not Mogadishu) spent more on education. IDPs in camps were least likely to spend on school fees. This may be a result of the increasing number of free IDP schools, which may be enabling beneficiaries to spend their cash in other areas, such as food and livestock.

Women were said to be in control of spending on small and daily items. The belief that the cash was a relatively small amount (around $100) and intended for household expenditure ensured that women continued to control the cash unchallenged.

There was some evidence that the cash may contribute to long term outcomes that may prove transformative to gender relations. Although the main objective of the cash was to save lives and sustain the most vulnerable, some beneficiaries were able to use the cash to invest in long-term productive assets, such as purchasing goats or starting small businesses. Potentially transformative to gender relations was the use of cash to increase women’s bargaining power and access to credit, reduce debts, decrease the migration of men for work and increase the time fathers spent with children.

This study shows that gender consideration in humanitarian situations is possible, despite challenging operating environments as is the case in South Central Somalia. The study also shows that many changes were gendered, but not all. Ensuring programmes consider the varying needs of different populations is crucial to minimising the risks that are specific to cash transfers, thereby improving positive outcomes for all.

Show footnotes

1Wasilkowska. K (2012). Gender impact analysis. Unconditional cash transfers in south central Somalia. The Somalia Cash Consortium. 21st December 2012

2The Cash Consortium is a group of four NGOs (ACF, Adeso, DRC and Save the Children) that came together in mid-2011 to coordinate their aid response to the huge humanitarian needs in South Central Somalia. The Cash Consortium has had a clear emergency mandate from the start; the overall aim of the Food Assistance for Vulnerable Households in South Central Somalia project is to meet basic food and nonfood needs, through the provision of unconditional cash grants. In 2011-2012, the Cash Consortium provided between 6 and 9 monthly cash transfers to over 40,000 households in the regions of Hiran, Gedo, Lower Juba and Mogadishu.

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Reference this page

Gender impact analysis of unconditional cash transfers in south central Somalia. Field Exchange 45, May 2013. p18.



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