Cash benefits can give women more freedom of choice and security

Today's global challenges require us to reconsider humanitarian aid. Instead of giving buckets and blankets, cash grants to poor women and girls can increase autonomy and reduce the risk of being exposed to violence, writes Daphne Jayasinghe at the International Rescue Committee.

Fatimah, whose husband was killed in the conflict in northern Cameroon, fled to Nigeria with his four children, all under the age of 12.

"When we fled, we went day and night," she says. For a month we wandered around, slept with strangers, and sometimes went several days without eating. I had never experienced such suffering before. ”

After a month and a journey of over 65 kilometers, they arrived in Tokomberé, where Fatimah's niece lives with her husband. She was met by a cruel reality.

“They and their neighbors tried to help us, but we still went days without eating. My children went to other houses to ask for food. Sometimes they were mocked and chased away. It was humiliating. "

Fatimah was forced to take matters into his own hands. She started manufacturing and selling neem oil, a vegetable oil used in the manufacture of cosmetics and traditional medicine. She sold the oil to her neighbors and grew vegetables on a small farm. But this only pulled in $ 2,50 a week and was not enough to support her family.

Women and girls are marginalized in crises

For women and girls, the daily anxiety that afflicts people in crisis situations is exacerbated by the threat of violence. Increased tensions inside and outside the home and discrimination on the grounds of gender, age, ethnicity, migrant status and economic inequality mean that women and girls are more marginalized than others in a crisis.

Cash grants from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), with financial support from Sida, became a lifeline for Fatimah. Her family can now eat two to three meals a day.

“I could buy three sacks of sorghum [a form of grain]. We can do that for several months. Even though our meals are not always of such good quality, at least my children no longer go to bed hungry. ”

Fatimah's story shows the seriousness of today's humanitarian crises, the urgent needs that arise and the suffering that particularly affects women. From the famine in East Africa to the refugee crisis on Europe's shores - in these times we must demand extraordinary assistance.

Cash provides more choices

Cash payments are increasingly being used to meet people's needs in crises. Traditional aid is still important, we at IRC know that, but it is no longer enough. Today's global challenges require us to reconsider humanitarian aid. Giving cash - instead of buckets or blankets - to people whose lives have been shattered by crises can be very important. It gives people choices, reaches out to those who need it most and can be more cost effective. Therefore, the IRC is committed to increasing the proportion of assistance we provide via cash support to 25 percent by the year 2020. The commitment reflects the observations we make in our work, day in and day out.

The importance of cash payments to increase choice and empowerment for vulnerable people is emphasized in Grand Bargain - a settlement between over 30 of the largest donors and aid organizations, including Sweden, from the World Humanitarian Summit in April 2016. Also in Sweden's new strategy for humanitarian aid, which will apply in 2017-2020, the important role of cash support is emphasized.

Food is an important priority for people driven by conflict, just as it is for anyone, but people on the run also have a number of other needs. Money is needed to be able to pay rent and can be used to start a small business. It can help women like Fatimah to become self-sufficient.

Money contributes to increased respect

IRC works in a wide range of crisis areas and needs solutions that can be adapted to these different contexts. In Jordan, cash benefits are given to women. The majority of them have fled the violence in Syria but are still at risk of being exposed to violence - at home or in society. Here, cash payments are combined with counseling for women and men as well as other important services with the goal of reducing violence. Women who took part in the efforts reported reduced violence, and many participants noted that "money is power". They felt that the money increased the respect for them within their families. This is consistent with studies from a number of countries showing that Cash transfers can give women increased financial autonomy.

New research from the IRC shows that 40 percent of the girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia reported that they had been subjected to sexual violence. We are currently looking at the effect of cash support to reduce this. Underage girls who have been forced to flee also suffer from other risks and obstacles in terms of financial autonomy. Harmful gender norms perpetuate notions that girls are less valuable and less capable than boys, which results in them being denied education and being isolated and exploited. Conflicts and disasters greatly increase girls' exposure to exploitation and abuse, and reduce their chances of reaching their full potential.

Early results from our research indicate that cash increases girls' independence and reduces dependence on economic activities where girls are at risk of violence. According to girls who receive cash benefits, they are, thanks to the money, respected by their families and can play a greater role in decision-making in the household. Many of the girls said that they can now meet their basic needs, and some of them run businesses.

This research continues. The IRC will look at how cash support compares to more conventional efforts to reduce violence against women and girls and to improve women's income and control over resources.

It is more important than ever that the assistance we provide is effective and efficient - cash support has a major role to play in tackling the challenges of the future.

Daphne Jayasinghe

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