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Cash transfers and gendered risks and vulnerabilities: lessons from Latin America

Working paper

Written by Rebecca Holmes, Nicola Jones

Working paper

Poverty in Latin America is highly influenced by gendered vulnerabilities. While significant progress has been made towards gender equality in the region, including parity in education and increased levels of economic and political participation, more women than men live in poverty, gendered wage disparities persist, and women face higher burdens of domestic and caring responsibilities, as well as high levels of teenage pregnancy and domestic violence.

Social protection interventions have burgeoned across Latin America since the late 1990s, emerging in part from a widespread dissatisfaction with the inefficiency and clientelism that plagued the older generation of social protection programmes in the region. Targeted conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have been a popular social protection response to address inequality and break the intergenerational transmission of extreme poverty. The experience of CCTs has been well documented and analysed over the last two decades, but the extent to which they address the gendered dimensions of poverty and vulnerability remains an area of debate.

Proponents of CCTs argue that the regular transfer of cash to women (in their capacity as caregivers) means gains in women’s economic empowerment and their decision-making power in the household and beyond. Other analysts caution that targeting women reinforces their traditional roles as carers and that cash alone is not enough to ensure women’s empowerment (Molyneux, 2007). This Backgound Note is part of a multi-country study funded by the UK Department for International Development and carried out by the Overseas Development Institute (UK), and the UNDP International Poverty Centre-International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (Brazil). It examines the extent to which gendered economic and social risks are addressed in CCTs in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

Rebecca Holmes, Nicola Jones, Rosana Vargas and Fabio Veras