Clearing the Fog around Cash and Gender-Based Violence

By Tenzin Manell, Senior Technical Advisor, Cash and Livelihoods

You know how after a shower the bathroom mirror is foggy and when you raise your fist up to wipe away the condensation, all of a sudden the opaque gray dissolves into a clearer image? It’s not quite yet a crystal-clear reflection, but it’s close? This is where we are as a humanitarian community addressing the integration of cash-based interventions (CBIs) and gender-based violence (GBV) prevention, mitigation, and response.

Cash itself is not risky, but delivering cash to refugees can bring with it risks, including GBV. The nature of these risks depends on context, age, gender, and diversity (AGD). In each humanitarian setting, refugee women and men may face different challenges registering as a beneficiary or in collecting or using cash, leading to different impacts of the same intervention. Within households, different degrees of access to, and control over, resources based on gender norms can mean that some members of the household benefit, while others–such as adolescent girls, or those living with disabilities–enjoy fewer benefits or even face risks of GBV. If humanitarians fail to identify, mitigate, and monitor GBV risks using an AGD lens, then the delivery of cash and its use may expose recipients to further harm.

At the same time, cash can be an essential component of GBV case management to mitigate risks of violence and promote recovery. Cash can be critical when violence has economic drivers, such as a refugee girl at risk of being married because her family can’t afford their basic needs. It can also be a lifeline for a woman who doesn’t have the right to work in the host country, has been raped trying to earn an income under precarious conditions, and can’t afford the health or legal services she needs to recover.

Earlier this year the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Mercy Corps published the Toolkit for Optimizing Cash-based Interventions for Protection from Gender-based Violence: Mainstreaming GBV Considerations in CBIs and Utilizing Cash in GBV Response. This practical toolkit designed for humanitarian staff delivering cash and GBV programming helps enable safe delivery of cash transfers, and the incorporation of cash where appropriate, within a package of GBV case management to support individuals at risk, as well as survivors of GBV.

This week, WRC published two reports on cash and GBV that aim to give humanitarians a crystal-clear view of cash and GBV prevention and response in humanitarian settings.

The first report, Tackling the Integration of Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response and Cash-Based Interventions, authored by WRC, helps humanitarians to look clearly at ourselves and examine where we need to make improvements. The report addresses gaps in current field practice, including how the siloing of cash providers and GBV responders impedes the clarity of roles and responsibilities, the development of successful approaches, and effective coordination efforts. It describes how lack of understanding by cash and GBV practitioners of each other’s standards, methodologies, and tools to support refugees — such as case management protocols and referrals for services — limits them from working together to develop the required skills and evidence to move forward. It also addresses how resource limitations, including staffing and donor funding, slow learning and perpetuates poor practice (i.e. one-size-fits-all programming rather than tailoring assistance and pairing cash with complementary services for gender-transformative and protective outcomes).

The second report, Humanitarian Cash Transfer Programming and Gender-Based Violence Outcomes: Evidence and Future Research Priorities, co-authored by WRC, IRC, and graduates from the London School of Economics, helps humanitarians understand the available evidence on the impact of cash on GBV prevention and response. For the first-time cash modalities, or types of cash assistance, are mapped against specific goals related to GBV prevention and response. These goals include an increase in women’s decision-making power in the household, a reduction in intimate partner violence (IPV), the prevention of forced or early marriage, and access to services for survivors, such as sexual and reproductive health services and mental health services. Findings show that multi-purpose cash grants (MPGs), which are unrestricted cash grants that refugees can use to meet their basic needs, have mixed impacts on the prevention and mitigation of and response to GBV. In some cases, the impact was positive, while in others neutral. The deciding factor for the positive impact was pairing MPGs with cash plus programming — complementary activities, such as gender discussion groups and psychosocial support delivered within targeted programming to support refugees at risk of GBV and survivors.

There is still much we need to learn before we can see perfectly and act with precision. The current evidence base is concentrated on MPGs rather than a broad examination of modalities and is primarily focused on Sub-Saharan Africa rather than being representative across contexts. In addition, it is centered on some GBV outcomes (i.e. improved distribution of household decision-making power and reduction of intimate partner violence) while evidence on other outcomes lags behind (i.e. reduction or prevention of forced and early marriage or access to response and recovery services).

WRC has identified five critical gaps that donors, implementing agencies, and academics should research. First, look at CTP and GBV outcomes for excluded, marginalized populations such as refugee women and girls living with disabilities and LGBTI individuals. Second, compare different CTP modalities and their impact on GBV outcomes. Third, research combinations of CTP and complementary services to achieve GBV outcomes, for example, pairing cash with case management, gender discussion groups, and psychosocial support. Fourth, look at whether conditions placed on the cash recipient in order to receive transfers are helpful in achieving GBV outcomes. And fifth, we must examine the longer-term impacts of CTP interventions on GBV outcomes.

These efforts will build a more thorough body of evidence to inform humanitarian policy and enhance practice — to clear the condensation once and for all.