Humanitarian Cash Transfer Programming and Gender-based Violence Outcomes: Evidence and Future Research Priorities


The use of cash transfer programming (CTP) in humanitarian contexts has grown significantly over the past few years (CaLP, 2018). CTP is recognized as an important component of humanitarian response that, in the right contexts, can make use of scarce resources efficiently and effectively, stimulate local economies, strengthen the dignity and choice of crisis-affected populations, and address multiple sectoral outcomes at once (Arnold et al., 2011; Creti and Jaspars, 2006; Gairdner et al., 2011; Venton et al., 2015). While cash and voucher transfers have been studied in development contexts and in meeting nutritional and shelter needs in humanitarian crises, evidence on the ability of CTP to meet other sectoral objectives and cross-cutting humanitarian issues is less robust. In the protection sector specifically, little conclusive evidence is available on the ability of CTP to address sub-sectoral outcomes in general, and gender-based violence (GBV) in particular.

Theory and practice make similar underlying arguments for the use of CTP in emergency contexts. Theories such as the entitlement approach view some emergencies as a sociopolitical phenomenon that income support can help to address (de Waal, 2006; Sen, 1999). Practitioners and stakeholders in humanitarian response agree that cash can be effective in meeting people’s needs, as it can increase access to basic goods and services and integrates humanitarian response within the local economy (Gairdner et al., 2011). However, CTP’s limitations, such as its inability to promote long-term behavior change, also are recognized as tempering its potential benefits.

In 2016, major donors and humanitarian agencies signed the Grand Bargain, which included commitments to increase CTP in humanitarian aid in an attempt to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian action (IASC, 2015). The Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP)’s Global Framework for Action7 consolidates cash commitments and recommendations made in the Grand Bargain as well as the Agenda for Cash, ECHO’s 10 Principles, The Report of the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers, and the IASC Strategic Note on Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Contexts within six global objectives. This report seeks to contribute specifically to global objective six: strengthen the evidence base and invest in innovation.

More robust evidence is needed on when and how CTP can deliver desired outcomes, especially for critical areas with less formal research, such as in crosscutting issues like protection and GBV.

Literature reviews on CTP and protection highlight the need to understand better how the size, frequency, and duration of CTP can influence GBV protection outcomes in humanitarian settings (Hagen-Zanker et al., 2017; Berg and Seferis, 2016). Building evidence on the utilization of CTP to achieve GBV protection outcomes is central to the work of the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) Task Team on Cash for Protection, as well as a priority for its member organizations, including those involved in this study: Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and the CaLP. This report seeks to outline what evidence exists on CTP and the prevention and mitigation of GBV in humanitarian settings and recommend priority areas for future research.