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Cash for Protection Outcomes: Realizing the Potential Together

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By Dale Buscher, Vice President of Programs, Women's Refugee Commission

“We strongly believe that this new area of work, on cash and protection, is an opportunity to include protection in our efforts to increase the efficiency of humanitarian aid. Cash should be prioritized over vouchers and direct assistance whenever possible, as it advances independence and dignity,” Andreas Papaconstantinou, Director Neighbourhood and Middle East, European Commission, Directorate-General, ECHO – September 2, 2020.

I could not agree more.

Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) is gaining acceptance among humanitarian actors globally. Until recently, however, the use of cash to support protection outcomes trailed behind other sectors.

While CVA has long been used to support food security, livelihoods, and shelter, its use to support the prevention of, and response to, protection issues (such as child labor, early marriage, sexual violence, and eviction) has been overlooked. The humanitarian community has been failing to adequately leverage potentially helpful tools to assist the most marginalized and excluded individuals and families.

That is now changing.

In just the last three weeks alone, global inter-agency cooperation has been evident as more than 500 representatives from national and international humanitarian organizations and UN agencies, as well as governments, gathered – during a series of high-level events – to dig deeper into how cash for protection can and should be integrated into humanitarian response.

At the heart of this growing global mobilizing around cash transfers is a new report that takes stock of how cash has ensured more effective protection of those most in need during crises.

The report, released on September 2 by the Global Protection Cluster Task Team on Cash for Protection, takes the pulse of where we are and where we need to go to best serve crisis-affected communities. The Task Team – co-chaired by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) –and composed of 30 organizations, agencies, and governments – spent two years mapping evidence across the areas of responsibility: child protection, gender-based violence, housing and land rights, and mine action. This work highlights gaps in knowledge, practice, and evidence – all of which require critical attention and immediate resources.

Integrating CVA across Protection Programs

Evidence suggests that CVA alone is unlikely to achieve meaningful long-term protection outcomes. Instead, CVA must be integrated into holistic and cross-sectoral programming that includes one-on-one case management facilitated by case workers so that individuals can access services corresponding to their needs.

For example, a cash transfer might help address aspects of a response when core response services for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), such as legal services or health services, are not accessible due to financial barriers. In this case, cash can be considered instrumental to a survivor’s recovery.

Efforts also are needed to understand which forms of CVA (for example, conditional and unconditional, as well as restricted and unrestricted cash transfers) and ways of delivering cash or vouchers (ATM card, mobile money, e-vouchers) are best suited for which type of protection programming. This information plays directly into effective program design.

CVA and Vulnerable and Marginalized Populations

In the fields of GBV and child protection, some very concrete learnings surfaced. Within the work against GBV, we saw persistent poor practice (lack of coordination between cash and GBV practitioners, failure to integrate cash and GBV programming and to conduct ongoing gender and protection analysis), which undercuts the potential of CVA contributing to GBV program outcomes.

When it comes to child protection, we need comparative evaluations of different methods of delivering cash and vouchers in varied contexts to determine if conditions tied to CVA for caregivers can have a significant impact on the well-being of children. Moreover, understanding supply-side limitations (such as school facilities and qualified teachers) is crucial to CVA having a positive impact on child protection.

Through our work on this report we also learned that there is a need to better understand what the impacts of CVA are for the most excluded and marginalized groups of GBV survivors and individuals at risk, including women with disabilities, older women, married and unmarried adolescent girls, and persons with diverse sexual orientation and gender identities.

Next Steps

Moving forward, this new report will serve as a living document to guide ongoing humanitarian response on cash and protection. For now, the report focuses on cash and voucher assistance for child protection and GBV outcomes. Future editions will reflect evidence on CVA for housing, land, and property (HLP) outcomes, as well as programming to address the impact of landmines on individuals and communities (Mine Action).

The humanitarian community must continue to break down silos between CVA and protection actors through mutual capacity building and improved coordination. The protection sector should proactively reach out to cash working groups where they exist, to initiate and maintain ongoing dialogue through local, national, and international partners.

We must work collaboratively to consider CVA for protection as a standard part of humanitarian responses. Practitioners should include cash for protection within donor proposals based on context-specific assessments. Donors, in turn, need to resource CVA for protection programming and related startup costs. And, we must build the CVA capacity of local partners and meaningfully engage their expertise in the context to identify opportunities to use CVA for protection outcomes.

Together, we can and must realize the full potential of CVA to enhance the protection of the populations we serve.