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Impact of Zambia’s Child Grant Programme on women’s empowerment

Women's bargaining power, savings and investments improve
Zambia cash transfer and women's empowerment 31 year old Alice Kalumbu was one of the first Building Young Futures trainees in Zambia. She now runs tailoring business in the John Leng area of Lusaka.

(9 March 2017) Despite the potential of cash transfers to empower women, the evidence supporting this outcome is not conclusive, especially from programs at scale in sub-Saharan Africa. The authors of a new study, Cash for Women’s Empowerment? A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of the Government of Zambia’s Child Grant Program, have conducted a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the Government of Zambia’s Child Grant Program, a poverty-targeted, unconditional transfer given to mothers or primary caregivers of young children aged zero to five. The results show a number of positive linkages between social cash transfers and different measures of women’s empowerment.

UNICEF Innocenti researchers, in partnership with the American Institutes for Research and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill authored the paper under the Transfer Project initiative, with support from UNICEF Zambia. The paper was published in the academic journal World Development in advance of International Women’s Day. The quantitative component of the study was a four-year longitudinal clustered-randomized control trial in three rural districts, and the qualitative component was a one-time data collection involving in-depth interviews with women and their partners stratified on marital status and program participation.

The study found that women in beneficiary households were making more sole or joint decisions (across five out of nine domains); however, impacts translated into relatively modest increases in the number of decision domains a woman is involved in. Women’s narratives captured through qualitative measures showed the cash transfer increased financial empowerment as they were able to retain control over transfers for household investment and savings for emergencies.

“I have also been empowered because of the child grant. I never used to have my own money, but now even as I suggest something to my husband I don’t feel worthless because I have money in my hands. It is my first time to experience such; I am really empowered.” Female, beneficiary, married, age 24

Results show potential for unconditional cash transfer programs to improve the financial and intra-household status of female beneficiaries, however it is likely that additional design components are need for transformational change. The evaluation is of particular interest, as it uses a large-scale, government-run program, instead of temporary pilot program implemented by a non-governmental organization. In addition, the authors are are able to make conclusions based on a relatively long period of programme receipt (four years), therefore overcoming limitations of other studies, which may examine only shorter-term impacts. Finally, the combination of quantitative and qualitative data makes it possible to interrogate the concept of women’s empowerment and assess if quantitative measures of decision making, commonly used in the literature to proxy for bargaining power, are likely to capture the intended concept assigned by researchers.

This study is important for governments, policy makers, and program implementers who are engaged in social cash transfers for poverty reduction. On one hand, the study contributes to quantitative evidence that suggests the Zambia Child Grant Program positively affected women’s decision making, however due to existing gender norms, impacts on sole and joint decision making translated into relatively minor actual shifts. In addition, the research highlights methodological challenges associated with equating commonly used decision making quantitative indicators with ‘empowerment’ more broadly. Thus, authors conclude that programmes such as the Child Grant Programme realize beneficial gendered impacts, but fail to shift gender norms in a transformational way. 

Read more about Innocenti’s social cash transfer work here, including a blog and research brief on gender and cash transfers. 

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