Cash and Voucher Assistance: young women have the choice and dignity they deserve for a brighter future

Cash and Voucher Assistance: young women have the choice and dignity they deserve for a brighter future

It is clear that cash and voucher-based programming can play a key role in realising girls’ rights in very different contexts.

By Sharon Sibanda and Isidro Navarro

Zimbabwe and Venezuela - two countries separated by thousands of miles, different continents and very different cultures.

Yet, they both have one fatal obstacle in common: economic degradation. Failing economic policies have destroyed their basic infrastructures and services, resulting in the substantive loss of income and deterioration of livelihoods. This is aggravated by hyperinflation and a massive exodus of populations that have the skills and abilities to lead their communities out of crisis but instead have been forced to leave their communities out of desperation.

In this environment of economic difficulties, COVID-19 has exacerbated the threats towards children, with  Zimbabwe experiencing a spike in sexual exploitation and domestic violence due to continued food insecurity.  In Venezuela, the economic crisis, combined with the pandemic has increased the extent and impact of child violence including emotional (100%), physical  (88%) and sexual (25%) drastically.

Today, the threat and impacts of the pandemic are forcing girls and young women to engage in sexual exploitation, illegal beer brewing, gold panning and early marriage for survival, resulting in domestic violence, diseases and sexual abuse. These young women’s aspirations for education and viable economic prosperity have been shattered as the pandemic continues to consume their communities.  

However, with desperation comes innovation and World Vision and our partners have found new ways for these girls and young women to be able to respond to the needs of their families – as well as their dignity – during this crisis. As in other emergency contexts, cash and vouchers have proven to be a time-tested, reliable method of support during this pandemic, ensuring that young, vulnerable women meet their families’ basic needs while avoiding harmful coping strategies. According to a recent report from GPC Task Team on Cash for Protection, Cash and Voucher Assistance can be effective in preventing child labour in the short-term to help keep children in school and thus reduce the exposure to risk and violence resulting from lack of income. With regards to unaccompanied and separated children, Cash and Voucher Assistance is associated with a decrease in children being separated from their

Kisbel Roman and her family in Venezuela
Kisbel Roman and her family in Venezuela 

parents and an increase in childcare by parents, close family members, or siblings. Evidence also shows that conditional cash transfers allow mothers to avoid migrating for work, and increase the time they spend caring for their children, including breastfeeding their infants and, if conditional, on increased school attendance for girls.

This is demonstrated in the lives of two young mothers: Rosemary Mhlanga, married in her early 20s raising two young children in Southern Zimbabwe where daily life was already a struggle for survival due to drought; and Kisbel Roman, a young mother living on the outskirts of Caracas Venezuela, unsure of how she was going to feed her soon-to-be newborn, with two children already facing the threat of malnutrition due to lack of income. Both women married at a very young age, the result of their families desperately trying to find a way to survive amidst poverty. Through this ordeal, both young women found themselves eventually married to men who had no access to livelihood sources.  

Cash and Vouchers have been the lifeline to both Rosemary and Kisbel.  A monthly cash transfer of 30 US$ - now being delivered through digital means - translates into a diverse and nutritious diet for their children, allowing their families the flexibility to also decide how to leverage the use of remaining money.

Rosemary Mhlanga and her two young children
Rosemary Mhlanga and her two young children 

Whether it is buying and preserving mango at the right moment for future nutrition, or ensuring contingency planning with savings to pay clinic fees if one of the children falls ill with malaria, cash transfers provide beneficiaries opportunities to prioritise how best to use these resources depending on the individual needs of the family. Most  importantly, cash transfers are customarily delivered directly to the hands of female household representatives, to ensure they have access to and control of the money, such as the case of Rosemary and Kisbel. These women are empowered to make the best decisions for the wellbeing of their children.

This empowerment helps young women to move beyond their immediate crisis and consider investing in their resilience and a more prosperous future. InZimbabwe, Rosemary has acquired new skills and knowledge to invest in and generate more sustainable income sources. Provided with an allotment garden by World Vision,[1] Rosemary is growing horticultural produce to supplement her family’s nutrition. Through her farmer business training facilitated by World Vision, she is selling the surplus produce to provide extra income.  In line with the ‘Agenda for Collective Action'[2] the project continues to monitor for protection risks, gathering learnings from their monthly post-distribution monitoring.  This monitoring indicates that negative coping strategies, such as sexual exploitation, were significantly reduced for households that received cash transfers.  Furthermore, young girls and females are now meeting some of their most neglected needs for menstrual and hygiene care through this financial support.

Rosemary Mhlanga tending to her garden allotment
Rosemary Mhlanga tending to her garden allotment 

Through the use of cash transfers and the arrival of new technologies, World Vision’s humanitarian assistance has become the enabling currency that helpsRosemary, Kisbel and other young women all over the world not only receive monthly cash grants but also improve their digital literacy and financial inclusion skills and opportunities. The knock-on effect has been empowering, allowing them the opportunity to access savings or micro-credit for small business creation or even to receive remittances from relatives abroad. The experience of digital literacy through electronic cash and voucher payment mechanisms (such as mobile money) has also opened a social door for these young mothers, improving their access to social groups that share information about issues that are relevant for them and their families.

Cash transfers are not just another way of delivering aid. They are transforming the way we do humanitarian assistance, maximizing achievements, helping to build resilience, while relying on a limited number of resources.  In leveraging Cash and Voucher Assistance for child protection, women education outcomes and non-Cash and Voucher Assistance strategies, together and in partnership with these young women, can we truly transition these families from moments of desperation to a vision of hope. Young, female beneficiaries can have the choice and dignity they deserve for a brighter future.  

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Sharon Sibanda is the Senior Technical Advisor for Cash and Voucher Assistance and Market-based Programming, based in Zimbabwe and supporting World Vision’s West Africa Region and Southern Africa Region. Isidro Navarro is the Senior Technical Advisor for Cash and Voucher Assistance and Market-based Programming based in Dubai and supporting the Middle East and Eastern Europe Region as well as Latin America. Both work within World Vision’s Global Centre Disaster Management Team. Charlotte Ndlovu, Project Coordinator for World Vision Zimbabwe, contributed to this piece.

Follow Sharon on Twitter @MasheduSibanda

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[1] A project of the Dutch Relief Alliance funded Zimbabwe Zambia Joint Recovery project (ZZJR)

[2] During the March 2018 Symposium on “Gender and Cash-Based Assistance in Humanitarian Contexts[6]”, the more than 100 actors gathered came up with an “Agenda for Collective Action”- which included a commitment to “Systematically Monitor and Respond to Protection Issues.”. It was agreed that monitoring of protection issues, including the risk of gender-based violence should be the norm in all programmes involving cash-based assistance. Protection monitoring was to inform adaptations in design and implementation to ensure safety and inclusion.