Issue 58 - Article 12

Gender impact analysis: unconditional cash transfers in South Central Somalia

August 7, 2013
Kamila Wasilkowska, Olivia Collins and Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy
Women in Hiran, Central Somalia displaying beneficiary identification cards after receiving cash grants

Between 2011 and 2012, in response to famine, the Somalia Cash Consortium (Action Contre la Faim, Adeso, the Danish Refugee Council and Save the Children) The Cash Consortium was formed in mid-2011 to coordinate the are more suitable for household management than four agencies’ aid response to the huge humanitarian needs in South Central Somalia.  distributed between six and nine months’ worth of unconditional cash transfers to over 40,000 households in the regions of Hiran, Gedo, Lower Juba and Mogadishu in South Central Somalia. The decision was made to target a majority of female beneficiaries (80% were female while 20% were male). One of the assumptions was that women in Somalia are generally responsible for preparing food as well as for childcare, so directing cash transfers to women rather than men would be more beneficial for the food security of the whole family. There was also an assumption that cash transfers for women could potentially alter social relationships at household and community level (though this was not an explicit objective of the programme).

As the Cash Consortium started to reflect on the impacts of these transfers on affected populations, the agencies involved recognised that there were numerous gaps in understanding around cash and gender in South Central Somalia; even programmes that appeared gender neutral may on closer analysis turn out to affect men and women differently. To address some of these gaps and contribute to future programming, the Cash Consortium commissioned a research study to better understand the impact of unconditional cash transfers on men and women in an emergency context. This article outlines some of the key findings of the study.

Study methodology

The study took place between October and November 2012, using a team of local Somali-speaking researchers in Gedo, Hiran and Mogadishu to undertake data collection. Due to access and security issues, the team was not able to include Lower Juba in the research study.  The fact that each team was local to the area under study ensured that they were familiar with the operating context. A triangulated data collection approach was implemented, comprising eight focus groups, 31 in-depth interviews and 109 questionnaires. This ensured that data could be crosschecked for emerging themes, and provided flexibility in the way sensitive questions were asked.

Key findings

The study found that targeting women was widely accepted. We found two key reasons why women were widely accepted as cash transfer beneficiaries:

1. Women’s traditional gender role was that of ‘household managers’

This made women responsible for managing daily subsistence spending, such as deciding on what food to buy and how to feed their children. As a result, targeting women as beneficiaries was seen to be an extension of their gender roles, and was easily accepted (both by the wider community and within households).

2. The size of the cash transfer determined who controlled it

“‘Men are good for managing a lot of money but women are more suitable for household management than men’.” Aisha, a cash beneficiary who currently lives in an IDP camp in Mogadishu

Female beneficiaries’ ability to control the cash was closely linked to the relatively small size of the transfers, at around $100 The cash was intended to meet basic needs in an emergency context, rather than to support longer-term livelihoods. The amount was based on the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB).  a month. Questions arise as to whether larger amounts (e.g. $300–$400), given with the objective of supporting income-generating activities, would lead to greater resistance from the community. This should be taken into consideration when determining the size of the grant and the targeting criteria, if one of the objectives is to transform gender relations.

Giving the cash to women increased women’s overall control of household finances. Conversely, giving cash to male beneficiaries did not appear to increase men’s control of cash at the household level. Out of a total of 109 male and female beneficiaries interviewed, women reported a lower baseline level of control over resources than men (67% for women and 90% for men). Following the cash transfer there was a 15% increase in the proportion of women with control over cash, and a slight decrease (to 85%) in the proportion of men with control over cash. This decrease may be a result of male beneficiaries handing over control of the cash transfer to their wives, who are seen as ‘household managers’.

‘It is my wife who makes the decisions. I bring the money, but she is responsible for managing the house, and I am only responsible for doing things outside the house’ – Mohammed, male cash transfer beneficiary who lives in an IDP camp in Mogadishu.

By gaining control over household spending, women were also able to make decisions on expenditure patterns. Of the beneficiaries the researchers spoke to, the majority (78%) said that women and men had different spending priorities. Female beneficiaries in Gedo and Hiran (but not Mogadishu) were twice as likely as male beneficiaries to spend the cash on their children’s education. Displaced people living in camps were less likely to spend the cash on school fees, though this may be a result of the increasing number of free IDP schools in Mogadishu, enabling beneficiaries to spend their cash on other items. E. Gillian, Somalia, Schooling Continues for IDPs and Incoming Children Amidst Drought Crisis, UNICEF, 2012.  These findings on gendered spending patterns complement other research that finds female beneficiaries often spend more on the education of their children. See for example Australia Aid, Promoting Opportunities for All – Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Thematic Strategy, November 2011; DFID, Cash Transfers: Literature Review, 2011; B. Herz and G. Sperling, What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World, Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2004; J. Yoong, L. Rabinovich and S. Diepeveen, The Impact of Economic Resource Transfers to Women Versus Men: A Systematic Review, Institute of Education, University of London, 2012.

In addition to meeting their basic food and non-food needs, one of the most significant impacts of the cash transfers was an increase in social status within the community. The study found a high degree of sharing of the cash, and a strong link between this sharing and increased social status. The majority of beneficiaries (83%) said that the cash had had a positive impact on their social status. Women reported greater participation in social functions, while men felt more included in religious functions. The greatest gains in social status (in order) were reported by widowed and divorced beneficiaries, pastoralists, agriculturalists, IDPs in camps, older recipients and women in general. Thus, while cash transfers had a positive impact on social status in general, that impact appeared greatest for the most vulnerable population groups, such as female-headed households and IDPs.

A key and unexpected finding from the study was that, as a result of the cash transfers, beneficiaries were better able to support the wider community and give qaaraan. A traditional Somali coping mechanism, qaaraan involves giving money to relatives, friends and community members. In the case of beneficiaries, giving qaaraan increased their social networks and bestowed on them specific productive benefits, such as an increase in social status, as well as reinvigorating reciprocal lending networks. The way beneficiaries in South Central Somalia used cash transfers (a relatively new aid modality) was modelled on this traditional coping strategy. This adaptation to local culture demonstrates the flexibility of cash transfers. Giving part of the transfer as qaaraan may provide a cushion against future adversity, and may have longer-term implications beyond the lifespan of the programme by strengthening social support networks.

Despite the positive outcomes of the cash transfer programme, women did report some protection risks and fear of conflict (though they did not report specific incidents of violence associated with the cash). Polygamous households saw an increased risk of conflict where one wife received the cash and the other(s) did not, and more thought about how best to deal with polygamous households is needed. Where one wife meets the vulnerability criteria and the other does not, should agencies give cash transfers to both wives in order to avoid conflict? This could potentially increase inclusion errors as some beneficiaries would not meet the targeting criteria. It could also increase conflict within the wider community, who would probably perceive this targeting as unfair. There is little research concerning how to deal with polygamous households in cash transfer programming (or in aid delivery in general for that matter). These questions also need to be asked of cash programmes outside of Somalia, in areas where polygamy is also practiced. In general, greater attention should be given to monitoring protection risks and finding innovative ways of collecting data about such a difficult and sensitive subject.


Cash transfer programmers should be cautious in concluding that women are empowered as a result of receiving cash transfers, specifically if only implemented over a period of a few months. The social justifications that enable women to manage cash are often based on gender stereotypes, i.e. that women can acceptably manage small amounts of cash, but not the larger sums that may transform gender relations. Nonetheless, there were specific positive effects from giving cash to women. For example, targeting female beneficiaries helped to close the gap between men and women over who controlled finances within the household, and encouraged spending on education. While both men and women experienced significant increases in social status, these gains were gendered and dependent on one’s position in society, for example being an IDP. Encouragingly, we found that some of the most vulnerable groups, such as widowed and divorced beneficiaries, experienced the greatest gains in social status, and that by giving qaaraan these groups were ‘elevated’ in the eyes of the community. While there was some evidence of increased conflict in polygamous households where only one wife received the cash transfer, more work is needed in thinking through how polygamous households should be approached. Overall, the study shows that many changes were gendered, but not all. Ensuring that programmes consider the varying needs of different populations is crucial to minimising the risks that are specific to cash transfers, and improving positive outcomes for all.

Kamila Wasilkowska is a Gender Specialist, Olivia Collins is former Somalia Cash Consortium Coordinator and Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy is Adeso Communications and Advocacy Manager.


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