Giving Women a Little Cash Gives Them a Chance to Succeed: Study
Studies show small cash transfers empower women and inspire farsighted decision making.
A little cash can go a long way toward improving overall health.
That is the takeaway from recent studies in Malawi, South Africa, and Mexico, where small cash transfers were proven to empower girls and young women to make more farsighted choices in choosing partners and education paths, reported Quartz.
“A little more pocket money can make a big difference about who these young women date,” said economist Sarah Baird, one of the researchers on the Malawi study, in an interview with Quartz. “They relied on [older] sexual partners for basic support like uniforms and school fees. As soon as the girls got the cash transfers from us, they were like, ‘We are not going to date you anymore. Now I can date my classmate.’”
For two years, beginning in 2008, the researchers randomly selected 800 girls between the ages of 13 and 22 in the Zomba district of Malawi to receive between $1 and $5 a month, noted the report. Parents were provided an additional $4 to $10 a month.
On average, each family received a total of $10 a month, or roughly 10% of the typical Malawi family’s monthly income.
When comparisons were made 18 months later between girls who had been given cash and a control group of 500 girls who had not, the women who had received cash were healthier, according to the study.
Three percent of the women in the control group tested positive for HIV, while only 1.2% of the women in the program tested positive. Similarly, 3% of the women in the control group had herpes, compared with less than 1% of the young women who’d been given a cash transfer.
The data also revealed that women who did not receive cash were more likely to lose their virginity and have sex regularly.
Baird noted that the older partners who would pair up with girls in the control group were not necessarily exploiting the young women. But because they were often older than 25, according to quantitative interviews, “they were more likely to expect sex and have sexually transmitted diseases,” reported Quartz.
A similar experiment, funded by the US National Institute of Health and conducted in the Mpumalanga district of South Africa between 2010 and 2011, also found that cash impacted the dating habits of the girls.
In this case, girls between the ages of 13 and 20 and their parents were given $10 to $20 per month under the condition that the girl go to school. On average, the girls selected for the program started having sex later in life and had fewer sexual partners.
Another positive impact of small cash transfer programs? Diminished instances of partner violence.
One of the authors of the World Bank Research Observer study, Melissa Hidrobo, told Quartz that there are two main reasons cash reduces violence: Women experience more power in their relationships, and life becomes less stressful.
In examining the impact of cash transfer programs in Ecuador and Bangladesh, Hidrobo found that many husbands who had been accustomed to being the sole breadwinner in a household, adjusted their behavior toward wives who now had means of their own.
Children growing up in that household, by extension did not experience the negative effects of witnessing domestic abuse.
Cash transfer programs are not a silver bullet, the studies warn, as giving women a modest amount of cash will not improve long-term job prospects or immediately change a sexist society, noted Quartz. But it has proven to benefit the short-term health of those involved and further highlights the importance of establishing greater gender equality through other programs.